Brixton Academy facing accusations of lack of medical professionals on night of fatal crush

Half the recommended number of medical staff were on duty on the night of a fatal crush at the O2 Brixton Academy last December, with no nurses or paramedics on duty.

Brixton academy

According to industry guidelines, there should have been medical cover from at least ten people, including a paramedic and a nurse. 

After two whistleblowers spoke to the BBC, the medical cover provider at the south London venue – Collingwood Services Ltd – confirmed that only five medical professionals were working the night.

Collingwood Services Ltd nonetheless claimed that it was “fully confident” its team had “responded speedily, efficiently and with best practice”.

The incident took place on 15 December 2022 at a concert by Afrobeats artist Asake. Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, and security guard Gaby Hutchinson, 23, died in the hospital following the crush.

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Both whistleblowers, who spoke to BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme, regularly work for Collingwood Services Ltd at the Brixton venue. They said medical cover at the Asake gig had been “inadequate”.

Neither of the whistleblowers was working when the crush took place. They said of the five people working for Collingwood at the Brixton venue that evening; none had a paramedic qualification.

“[They] had two student paramedics, so they’re basically unqualified,” said one. “They have to be supervised by a paramedic, not by anybody of a lower grade. They didn’t have appropriate supervision.”

You need to pass an approved Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) course to become a paramedic, which often means studying for three years to reach degree level.

The insiders said two of the three others working on the night were “FREC 3s”, meaning they had a Level 3 certificate in First Response Emergency Care. This means they normally complete a “five-day course to learn skills for medical and trauma situations in pre-hospital settings”.

Collingwood Services Ltd. said that two of their five staff were “first responders”, though this is a generic term describing people of various levels and experiences. The company added two third-year student paramedics were present – though working as lower-grade emergency medical technicians (EMTs) – while the fifth person was also an EMT, according to Collingwood.

When the BBC pressed for more specificity, Collingwood only said: “All staff present were qualified to carry out the scope of practice they were contracted to perform”.

They did confirm that “no member of staff was contracted to provide paramedic level duties at the event.”

Three additional trained medical staff from Collingwood arrived at the Brixton venue at approximately 23:00. They were in attendance until 02:30.

Police have previously revealed they were called by Brixton Academy staff at about 21:30. London Ambulance Service says it was asked to attend at 22:06, where their staff treated ten people at the scene, eight of whom were then taken to hospital.

Both of the whistleblowers said that “very often” previous concerts at the Brixton Academy – before the Asake gig – had been similarly understaffed by Collingwood.

“Very often they would just tell you the extra staff were running late, but they would never turn up,” one said.

Collingwood still provides medical cover at the O2 Academy Islington, operated by the same company, Academy Music Group (AMG). 

“I feel ashamed to be working for this organisation,” one of the whistleblowers said. “If we had a Brixton-style incident at this venue [O2 Academy Islington] then I would not be able to operate effectively and people’s lives would be at risk.”

Since the crush on 15 December, that whistleblower has provided the BBC with photos from the O2 Academy Islington showing out-of-date medical equipment still in use. Items include a paediatric resuscitator bag and tubing with a use-by date of March 2019; nasopharyngeal airway tubes (that fit down the nose and throat) with use-by dates of January and June 2022; oxygen masks with use-by dates of August 2022; and a defibrillator which should have been safety tested by September 2022.

O2 Brixton
AMG said it could not respond to the BBC’s request for comment on specific questions and instead “cited the police investigation into what happened.”

Radio 4’s File on 4 has previously reported that AMG had classed the Asake concert as “high risk”. It was a sold-out concert at the 5,000-person venue.

According to the Purple Guide from the National Arenas Association, events with between 3,000 and 10,000 attendees should have the following:

  • One or two paramedics or Emergency Care Practitioners
  • One or two nurses or Emergency Nurse Practitioners
  • Six first aiders/first responders for the first 3,000 attendees – then one more for every additional 1,000

On top of this, a doctor, a rapid response vehicle, an ambulance, and a crew for on-site service and transfers to hospital should also be considered.

Last month, File on 4 reported shortcomings with security at the venue, including some being known to take bribes.

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