‘I feel so let down’: Long wait for ambulances in South West England | emergency services



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More than four hours after an ambulance was called, Richard Carpenter, 71, who was believed to have had a heart attack, began to despair. “Where are they?” he asked his wife Jeanette. “I’m dying.”

She tried to reassure her husband that the crew must certainly be close by. Perhaps they struggled to find their rural home in Wiltshire in the dark. “But I saw I was losing him,” she said. She gave her husband CPR and urged him, “Don’t abandon me.” But by the time the paramedics arrived another hour or so later, it was too late.

Jeanette Carpenter, 70, a stoic and reasonable person, accepts that it may have been impossible to save her husband. “But I think he would have had a better chance if they had been here earlier,” she said.

It’s the kind of sad story that happens all too often. All over England, but especially in the South West, too often ambulances fail to reach patients on time.

Richard Carpenter had been released from hospital two days earlier after heart surgery. On the night he died, he complained of pain in his back, side and arms, and his wife called for help at 10:37 PM. She called back two more times and told the operators that she thought her husband was having a heart attack. Finally arrived at about 4am.

“The paramedics did everything they could, but it was too late,” Carpenter said. Her husband, a beloved father and grandfather with a wonderful sense of humor, died after a hemothorax – a buildup of blood in the pleural space. “I feel so let down,” she said. “Is this the kind of country we live in now?”

‘My lips were blue. it was really bad’

Steven Webb, 49, the mayor of Truro, is paralyzed and prone to a condition called autonomic dysreflexia, which can cause his blood pressure to rise. The last time it hit him, he believes it nearly cost him his life.

“Such blood pressure can lead to stroke or death within 15 or 20 minutes,” he said. “Normally my caregivers deal with it, but this time I donated blood. I was sweating, my heart was pounding, I was in a lot of pain. My lips were blue. It was really bad.”

An ambulance was called. “They said it was category one, the next ambulance available. Twenty minutes passed and I called back and asked where the ambulance was. It was very dangerous for me, scary. They said they sent an ambulance from Bodmin.” That was 27 miles away.

The ambulance that eventually arrived, 90 minutes after the 999 call, was actually from Saltash, 80 kilometers away. The paramedics stabilized him.

Steven Webb feared for his life during a 90-minute wait for an ambulance. Photo: Paul Richards PR4Photos

As a politician, Webb understands why things are going wrong: the lack of beds in hospitals, the strain on the healthcare system that prevents people from being fired even when they are healthy enough, the ongoing impact of Covid.

“The situation is getting worse,” Webb says. “People get heart attacks and strokes and loved ones have to take them to the hospital. People die because of this. The system is the problem. The ambulance crews are the heroes. They will fight through this, show up to work, do their best.”

Why the Southwest Is Struggling

One such hero, a first-line paramedic in the Southwest, described the situation as “appalling”. Before Covid, the worker – who asked not to be named – said between six and 10 shifts jobs. When the first person he is called to has to go to the hospital, he expects this to be his only job for the entire shift.

“In some hospitals, we wait 10, 11 or 12 hours outside the hospitals,” he said. “There is nothing more demoralizing than hearing a general broadcast for a cardiac arrest or a traffic accident and there are no means to steer. It’s terrible to think that someone’s loved one needs help and that there’s nothing we can do because we’re stuck in a hospital.”

There are reasons why the Southwest in particular is struggling. South Western ambulance service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) covers 10,000 square miles – one fifth of mainland England – largely rural. It takes a long time to get around and hospitals are far apart. The trust also serves an older population than other parts of the UK, dealing with an influx of 23 million visitors a year.

SWASFT is trying to address the situation by introducing measures such as hospital ambulance liaison officers, ‘fall cars’ designed to help people who fall, and specialized mental health teams.

But a spokesperson said there was high demand for an extended period of time. “Sometimes we experience delays in transferring our patients to the emergency department, which prevents our crews from getting back on the road for other patients. This is due to pressures across the health and care system,” they said. our partners to address these delays and they are working hard to reduce the number of patients waiting to be discharged from hospital so that beds can be made available for those who need to be admitted to a ward.”

SWASFT has asked people with non-life-threatening conditions to use other services such as 111, GPs or pharmacies where possible. But this weekend, as always, there were ambulances parked outside hospitals – a dozen on Saturday afternoon outside the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, another 12 by early evening at the Royal United Hospital (RUH) in Bath.

‘Not the world we want to live in’

Late last month, Bath and North East Somerset City Councils expressed concern to the government over the case of a 93-year-old man who collapsed during a classical music concert at Christ Church in the city.

The priest on duty, Lore Chumbley, a former surgeon, knew the man had broken a bone, and someone called 999. “It took six and a few minutes to get through,” Chumbley said. They tried to put the man at ease by using poufs—kneeling pillows—to prop him up, and the long, long wait began. “He lay there all night,” Chumbley said. It took almost 12 hours for the ambulance to arrive. “This is not the world we want to live in,” she said.

The council’s Liberal Democrat leader Kevin Guy wrote to the government that “unacceptable pressures” on the health and social care system were putting lives at risk. He said a quarter of the beds in the RUH were occupied by people who were fit to be fired but who were trapped in the system, “largely due to shortages in home care,” he added: “It is not unusual to see 15 or 20 ambulances queuing outside. the emergency room.”

Daryl Major
Daryl Major, from Swindon, waited 14 hours for an ambulance after becoming trapped between his bed and a radiator. Photo: included

Daryl Major, 32, who has fibromyalgia, a condition that causes widespread pain and extreme fatigue, said he was in pain for 14 hours after falling into the gap between his bed and a radiator in his seventh-floor flat in Swindon. “I was stuck in the 2ft hole. I just couldn’t move,” he said. “I cried in pain.”

His father, Ian, 67, a former police officer and part-time bus driver, found him and called 999. Major spent an entire night in that painful, awkward position. “I’ve called them four or five times,” his father said. “They were very nice, but all they said was that they were very busy and that they would come to us if they could.

“It made Daryl very anxious. I know that paramedics are doing their best. They just want to do the best for their patients, but they are not allowed to do their job well. Something has to change.”

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