STRASBOURG (AFP) - French authorities have opened an inquiry into the death of a young woman just hours after her distress call to emergency services was mocked by the operator, prompting a public outcry.
Ms Naomi Musenga, 22, dialled France's emergency dispatch number on Dec 29 last year complaining of strong stomach pains.
In a recording of the three-minute call obtained only recently by her family, Ms Musenga's voice can barely be heard as says "It hurts all over" and "I'm going to die..." "You're going to die, certainly, one day just like everyone else," the female operator responds. She is also heard mocking Ms Musenga's complaints with a colleague, before telling the victim to call a doctor for a house visit.
Five hours later Ms Musenga again calls the emergency services, which finally dispatch the ambulance that brings her to a hospital in Strasbourg, eastern France. But she died shortly after arriving from a heart attack.
According to French daily Le Monde, an autopsy revealed that Ms Musenga had suffered multiple organ failure.
French Health Minister Agnes Buyzn posted on Twitter she was "deeply outraged" and had ordered an inquiry into the "serious failures" by the emergency services.
The circumstances surrounding Ms Musenga's death have reignited calls for increased funding and resources for France's health system.
"In 1988, eight million people went to hospital emergency rooms each year. Today's it's 21 million," Dr Patrick Pelloux, head of the French association of emergency doctors (AMUF) told French daily Le Parisien.
"At the same time, calls to emergency services have tripled", which have effectively reduced them to "call centres", Dr Pelloux said.
The government is already grappling with huge strains on the health system, with hospital doctors denouncing for weeks a shortage of beds that means many patients are forced to sleep on gurneys in hallways.
Nurses and other workers have also been protesting in recent weeks against overcrowding and staff shortages.