Paramedic Professor died from taking ‘toxic’ amount of prescription drug

A leading paramedic died after taking a “toxic” amount of prescription medication, an inquest has heard.

Professor Malcolm Woollard, 57, was found dead at his home after consuming an excessive amount of morphine prescribed for his chronic back condition.

Pontypridd Coroner’s Court heard Prof Woollard, a former university lecturer and Chair of the College of Paramedics, had retired after struggling with a number of physical and mental health problems.

At the time of his death he was living alone at his home after wife of 30 years, Julie, left him as she was unable to cope with his constant care.

She told the inquest she last spoke to her husband over the phone on July 8.

Neighbours said they had not seen him for a number of days before concerns were raised for his welfare.

One neighbour noticed a build-up of mail and parcels at his home at the Old Plough, Llangattock, Powys, on July 15 last year, and after letting himself in with a key found Prof Woollard in bed covered in blood and vomit.

He called for an ambulance at 6.44pm but Prof Woollard was pronounced dead.

Dr Mike Bisser, Prof Woollard’s GP, said he suffered with a number of long-term health conditions, including chronic back pain, a spinal condition, sciatica, migraines, and “significant mental health problems” which included anxiety and depression.

He said there were concerns Prof Woollard “frequently exceeded” his prescribed medications, adding: “Attempts were made to discuss these concerns with him, but he vehemently denied taking medications outside of the prescribed doses.

“His relationship with medication was complex and gave us cause for concern.”

His wife, Julie Woollard, said her husband had worked as a director of operations for the Welsh Ambulance Service before going on to lecture in pre-emergency care at Teeside University and Coventry University, and that he set up a research centre in Cardiff before retiring in 2012 due to his health.

She said he was taking 19 different medications including morphine every day causing him to vomit, and his mental health problems led to him occasionally becoming housebound, and that he once stayed in bed for four months.

In March 2017 she decided to leave him, telling the inquest: “I couldn’t cope caring for him any more. I could see him getting worse.

“He understood why I left him. I still visited him on a weekly basis and took him to any hospital appointments he had.

“I was fearful for my sanity.”

She said Prof Woollard would sometimes “keel over in a comatose state” and occasionally vomited in his sleep.

Pathologist Dr Jason Shannon said an “elevated level” of morphine was found in his blood, as well as other prescribed medications at therapeutic levels.

He said: “Prof Woollard’s death was most likely the consequence of the toxic effects of excess opiates, ie morphine.”

Assistant coroner Andrew Barkley said Prof Woollard was a “regular overuser of different medication including morphine”, and concluded his death was related to prescription drugs.

He said: “I don’t find persuasive evidence that this was suicide.

“I find the cause of death was morphine toxicity.”

After his death the College of Paramedics released a statement which described Prof Woollard as a “leader in paramedic practice”.

The statement said: “Over the past four decades, Malcolm has been a leader in paramedic practice and in the development and advancement of the paramedic profession.

“He has made enormous contributions to paramedical services both here in the UK and globally through his research and numerous professional activities.

“Malcolm Woollard, a Past-Chair of the College of Paramedics and one of its founding members, will be sadly missed by his many colleagues and friends who will always consider him to have been a stalwart and ground-breaker for the paramedic profession.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) College Of Paramedics.