Health secretary on impact of ambulance strikes amid pay dispute
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Patients have died in ambulances and in NHS cubicles over the past year as the NHS continues to face a crippling demand.
The latest data, released in December, showed the mean average response time for an ambulance for the most urgent Category, C1, for England excluding London, was 9 minutes 26 seconds, significantly longer than the NHS’s seven-minute target.
Ambulance chiefs said in November the problems were leading to patients dying and being harmed on a “daily” basis.
Speaking to the BBC, Martin Flaherty, managing director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), said: “These crippling delays are a twin threat – they cause significant harm to patients who are forced to wait in the back of our ambulances, while our crews are stuck and therefore unable to respond to patients who need us out in the community.
“As the colder winter weather approaches we have serious concerns that things will get worse in the coming weeks and months.
“The life-saving safety net that NHS ambulance services provide is being severely compromised by these unnecessary delays, and patients are dying and coming to harm as a result on a daily basis.”
Express.co.uk has compiled some of the worst cases patients have had to ensure in the past years, including some instances in which people have lost their lives.
One 62-year-old woman died while waiting for a bed in A&E at University Hospital of Wales in Heath, Cardiff, in November.
Catherine Cudden’s condition deteriorated in a cubicle she had to share with other patients and medics were unable to save her.
Speaking after the tragedy, Catherine’s sister Pat Cann said: “This should never have happened. My sister should never have died. I have been in here all night with her. Begging for a bed, begging for oxygen, begging to just get a bloody stool for her.”
A Cardiff and Vale University Health Board spokesman said: “We are very sorry to hear about the loss of Catherine and our thoughts and condolences are with the family at this incredibly sad time. Our focus remains on the delivery of patient care and our staff are working incredibly hard, often in difficult circumstances, to provide the best and most appropriate care in a timely manner but we acknowledge that this is not always at the standard we would want.
“While we are unable to comment on individual patient cases our healthcare professionals assess and monitor each patient and provide the appropriate treatment based upon their clinical need. We would welcome the opportunity to speak with Catherine’s family directly and would encourage them to contact the concerns team.”
And an elderly woman “died on a trolley” while waiting to be admitted into an emergency department at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast in November.
Attempts were reportedly made to resuscitate her amid the wait for admission but the woman died there.
A spokesperson for Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT) said: “Belfast Trust would like to send our condolences to this patient’s family, our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.
“We have reviewed this patient’s care and spoken to their family. Out of respect for the patient’s family, we will not make any further comment.”
An elderly mother waited 40 hours for an ambulance to arrive after a fall in the summer.
Steven Simms’ mum potentially broke some of her bones but, due to NHS backlogs, faced a huge wait for help.
“We are literally heartbroken to see a 90-year-old woman in such distress just sitting there waiting,” Mr Simms said.
“And it is the not knowing, it’s the not knowing how ill she was or whether she had broken anything.”
It is unclear which ambulance trust experienced such delays.
When 85-year-old Keith Royles had a fall, he had to wait seven hours in the rain in Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire.
Keith, who has cancer, broke his hip and was forced to lay on his patio as his family tried to keep him dry by erecting a shelter over him.
His daughter Tina said: “We called an ambulance and were told that there would be a wait of between four to seven hours for an ambulance.
“We called several times and my sister even tried to flag down an ambulance but they said they couldn’t help.”
Lee Brooks, Executive Director of Operations at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “We are deeply sorry about Mr. Royles’ experience, which was no doubt a painful and anxious wait for all involved.
“Hospital handover delays remain the single biggest reason we cannot get to some patients quickly. It’ll take a system-wide effort to resolve a system-wide issue.”
In November, a pensioner was allegedly forced to wait nearly four hours at a hospital gate for an ambulance to take him just 100 yards to A&E.
Philip Jones, 78, was left with a bloody leg after becoming trapped in closing doors while taking the bus. The former medic, from Patchway, Gloucestershire, is prone to blood clots due to a heart condition and needed medical assistance.
When the concerned bus driver called the emergency services, they were told there would be a three to four hour wait for an ambulance. Instead, the driver decided to drop Mr Jones at Southmead Hospital.
A North Bristol NHS Trust spokesperson said: “We are sorry to hear of these concerns, we are looking into what happened on this occasion so that we can better understand whether our standard operating procedure was followed.
“That procedure does not involve calling an ambulance.”
In the summer, a father slammed a “nightmare” A&E department after waiting 31 hours with a suspected burst colon only to be sent home.
Muhammad Ehsan, 44, was told by his GP to head to A&E as he feared he may need emergency surgery on his colon. The father of two claims he had to sit on a “hard, plastic” chair with a “really sore stomach” after being told there were no beds available at Royal Oldham Hospital.
After waiting for more than one day, Muhammad was sent home with medication.
The dad said: “I had to sit on this hard, plastic chair while I had a really sore stomach and was deteriorating. No one offered me any food until a staff member brought me a sandwich around 23 hours into the wait. I couldn’t even eat it because it wasn’t suitable for vegetarians and wasn’t Halal.
“It was a nightmare on top of what I was already dealing with.”
Dr Chris Brookes, Deputy CEO and Chief Medical Officer for the Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust said: “We would again extend apologies to any patient and their family whose care or experience has fallen below our usual standards.
“Our staff are continuing to work incredibly hard to resolve the IT issues affecting our hospitals and community services in Oldham, Bury, Rochdale and at North Manchester General. Many staff are going above and beyond, and being incredibly patient, for which we are very grateful.
“We have made some good progress to fix some of the critical systems affected, and these systems are being released to colleagues when they have been tested and approved for use. This process will continue for the forthcoming days and weeks as we prioritise our key clinical systems to maintain patient safety.”
And in April 2022, an RAF veteran who waited 26 hours to be treated in an A&E department described her experience as “barbaric”.
Julianne Williams, aged 54, was told to go to hospital after she experienced abdominal pain, sickness and a high temperature.
She was triaged within minutes but described how the scene changed from “calm to carnage” as soon as she opened the double doors of the A&E waiting room.
Julianne remained at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil, south Wales, for 26 hours.
“I’m a Royal Air Force veteran. I spent over 25 years in the military. I’ve been to warzones, I’ve been to Baghdad, Iraq – but the treatment I received in that hospital was nothing short of barbaric,” Julianne said.
“I’d never been to A&E in my life. I’d never had the need to. In my head it was a bit like Holby City; all the doctors and nurses had nice scrubs on, everybody was identifiable and it was clean and tidy. But it was the complete opposite. You don’t know who you’re talking to, it’s dirty and staff are running around like headless chickens.”
But the health board said it had been under significant pressure.
A spokesperson for Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board said: “We would like to say sorry again to Ms Williams for her experience at our emergency department. Ms Williams has complained to us and we have been, and are, in touch with her to understand more about her concerns.
“The complaint is ongoing, and so at this stage it would not be fair of us to say much more until it is resolved. We have offered Ms Williams an appointment with one of our specialists so that we can offer care or treatment for the symptoms she has been suffering from.
“As with other health boards across Wales, all three of our emergency departments have been under pressure recently. Our dedicated staff are working so hard, prioritising the most seriously injured and ill patients.”
In September, a pensioner waited 15 hours to see a doctor in A&E after she was involved in a car accident.
Linda Webb, 74, suffered severe pain in her neck after a car smashed into the back of hers near Coundon, Coventry. She arrived at the A&E at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) at 2.30 and found it was “chock-a-block”. It took Linda three hours alone to just see a trauma nurse.
The woman waited another 10 hours and sat in the crowded department overnight with her husband in order to see a doctor.
Linda, who lives in Cheylesmore, Coventry, saw a young man whose head was “pouring with blood” in A&E. The pensioner continued: “His head was pouring with blood.
“He had a bandage around him and he sat that long with this really bad head injury and blood all down his face. He had a fit while he was sitting waiting so they had to shove him on a stretcher and send him through then.”
A spokesman for University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust said: “The Emergency Department at University Hospital, Coventry is a Level One Major Trauma Centre and currently sees in excess of 160,000 patients every year. A&E provides emergency treatment for those who are critically ill or injured and an experienced clinician assesses the severity of symptoms of every person who attends to ensure we see the sickest patients first.
“We know waiting is frustrating and our staff work extremely hard to treat every patient as quickly and efficiently as they can. We apologise to anyone who has to wait longer than they would like. Patient care and safety are always our priorities and our teams are working closely with our partners across Coventry and Warwickshire to provide the best experience possible to everyone using our services.”
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