Ambulance Delays: The Shameful Truth

25 Sep 2018

While it is no secret that the NHS is chronically understaffed and underfunded, it is becoming clear that regional ambulance services are also struggling to provide safe and timely care to those who are most critically ill.

Olive Nutt

Olive Nutt aged 92 became a victim of these service shortfalls, when the London Ambulance failed to correctly prioritise a call made on her behalf. According to reporting in the Evening Standard, Ms Nutt suffered a cardiac arrest in her sheltered accommodation flat, located in Pimlico, London. Pressing an emergency pendant around her neck summoned the housing association staff, who at 5.31 pm on 28th January 2018 placed a 999 call for assistance. Despite the nearest ambulance station being located only a few metres away, paramedics did not arrive until 8.48 pm, over 3 hours after the emergency call was first placed. By this time Ms Nutt was dead.

Assistant Coroner’s Prevention of Future Death Report

The delay in assistance to Ms Nutt occurred despite recent changes to ambulance dispatch time standards, which stipulate that the most seriously ill patients, classified as C1, should receive paramedic assistance within 7 minutes.

The resulting report on Ms Nutts’ case, written by the Assistant Coroner for Inner West London, highlighted the following matters of concern which are awaiting an official response from the London Ambulance Service (LAS):

  • The ambulance service failed to make a proper note of Ms Nutt’s symptoms which caused the clinicians to make an incorrect priority decision for her condition. This meant that Ms Nutt was classified incorrectly as a Category 4 patient, requiring assessment by telephone within 90 minutes of the initial 999 call for help.
  • The ambulance service ‘breached its own pre-set time guidelines in failing to return a call [within 90 minutes of the initial 999 call] to the deceased’s home to take further details of her medical condition’.

Malcom Alexander, chairman of the London Ambulance Patient’s Form was quoted in the Daily Mail, ‘the forum was told by NHS England that the next dispatch system would extend waits for less seriously ill patients, not for patients who need a rapid response to save life’.

The LAS apologised for the mistake, explaining that at the time, it had been experiencing a high number of calls. The LAS director of operations said, ‘Cases like this are mercifully rare, but we have used it as an opportunity for reflection and learning’.

Nationwide Problem: North West Ambulance Service

The LAS is not the only ambulance service suffering. There is the case of Gary Ennis, which was recently reported in the Times. Gary had been training for an Ironman Triathlon when he fell off his new road bicycle. Although he wore a helmet, he suffered head injuries which 2 weeks after the accident proved to be fatal. His widow expressed concern that the North West Ambulance Service paramedics only arrived after two separate 999 calls and forty minutes of waiting. Shortly after the road ambulance arrived, the air ambulance escorted Gary to the Royal Preston Hospital where he was diagnosed as suffering from a very severe brain injury.

Commenting on the case, the local Coroner said, ‘Given the extent of his injuries, I can’t say that a quicker ambulance would have made a material difference, […] from a human perspective, if that was my partner or my son, I would want to know why the ambulance took so long’

Nationwide Problem: East of England and South Western Ambulance Services

The East of England Ambulance Service was recently ranked as the worst in the country for delayed responses. According to the BBC one patient waited nearly 25 hours for an ambulance. Labour MEP for Essex, Alex Mayer said, ‘At the start of the year we had an emergency investigation into whether ambulance delays caused the deaths of patients in the East of England. We were promised improvements. The Government needs to better resource the whole NHS’.

Then there is the South Western Ambulance Service which has failed to meet its 7-minute target for critically ill patients every month, with some patients having to wait more than 9 minutes for emergency care.

Winter 2018-2019

Underfunding and understaffing is not a new problem for the NHS. In the past 3 years, the total number of emergency calls to the ambulance service has increased by 15%. This means that scarce resources are being stretched even tighter and there is no indication that there will be any ease of pressure in the coming months. Winter 2018-2019 will prove a bleak and testing challenge for the country’s Ambulance Services.

Stephanie Prior at Osbornes is currently acting for a family who were severely let down by the LAS who failed to attend to a young woman who suffered an epileptic fit, as a consequence a 29 year old mother of a two year old daughter died. Although, her family has received an apology from the LAS it can by no means rectify what has happened. Her family struggle daily to come to terms with what has happened, especially knowing that if the ambulance had arrived deceased would have been transported to hospital and survived her epileptic fit.

At Osbornes Law we care about how you are treated both by medical professionals at your GP surgery or at hospital and also under the care of private providers of health services. If you think that the care you or a loved one has received fell below the standards expected of a reasonably competent professional, then please do not hesitate to contact Partner and specialist medical negligence lawyer Stephanie Prior on 020 7681 8671. You can also fill out an online enquiry form here.

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