December 6 2013 Latest news:
Adam Gretton, Health correspondent
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
A coroner criticised the region’s ambulance for its slow response in reaching a Norfolk pensioner who died in the back of an ambulance more than four hours after a request was made to take her to hospital.
A GP asked the East of England Ambulance Service to send an ambulance to Evelyn Heath, 93, of Fairland House residential home in Attleborough, within two hours on the afternoon of December 14 because she had an irregular heartbeat.
The next-of-kin of the pensioner said he found it “unbelievable” that a paramedic was diverted to another 999 call in nearby New Buckenham after the pensioner’s condition had deteriorated. The NHS trust took three times as long to get a medic to Mrs Heath - a former dispenser in Attleborough - after her case was upgraded to an emergency, an inquest heard.
Norfolk coroner Jacqueline Lake today said that Mrs Heath had died of natural causes. However, it was not known whether the delay in getting hospital treatment to her had contributed to her death.
The coroner stopped short of issuing a report calling for the East of England Ambulance Service to improve after being told that the NHS trust had put in place an action plan to increase resources.
“I am concerned at the time taken here and the delay in particular with regards to the ambulance arriving over two hours after the request time and the main concern is that once it was upgraded to an emergency level the rapid response vehicle was diverted to another call with no apparent justification being given,” she said.
The inquest heard that Dr Alistair Martin went to see Mrs Heath on the afternoon of December 14 and a receptionist from the Station Road Surgery in Attleborough called the ambulance service at 2.54pm requesting an ambulance within two hours.
At 6.09pm a St John Ambulance vehicle was dispatched from the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds. However, 20 minutes later, Mrs Heath’s condition had worsened and the ambulance service upgraded the incident to “red 2”, which requires a response in eight minutes. The inquest heard that a paramedic in a rapid response vehicle (RRV) was sent from Colney at 6.43pm, but was diverted to 6.47pm to another red 2 incident in New Buckenham.
Another rapid response paramedic reached Mrs Heath at 7.06pm - missing its response time by 17 minutes.
Mrs Heath was pronounced dead at 8.04pm in the St John Ambulance after she suffered a cardiac arrest two minutes after the ambulance left the Attleborough care home.
Christoper Hewetson, duty manager at the Norwich ambulance control room, who investigated the incident, told the inquest that the trust had received a high number of 999 calls on December 14 and did not have enough ambulances to respond to them.
He added that he could find “no reason” why the original RRV paramedic had been diverted to a 78-year-old in New Buckenham who was in a similar condition to Mrs Heath.
“As publicised, the trust has not been meeting the standards expected and unfortunately this is one of many. We have a turnaround plan and action plan and our chief executive is very determined to increase resource levels and putting more ambulances on the roads,” he said.
David Noble, Mrs Heath’s second cousin, said the ambulance service appeared to be in “meltdown.”
“After all those years of service it is very sad that the National Health Service should have let her down so badly in her hour of need,” he said.