'It could be eight hours' - Concern over strain on ambulance staff
- Credit: Sara Grodentz
Families have raised concerns about the pressure on ambulance services after loved ones waited up to 11 hours to be seen in the last week.
Sara Grodentz, from Buxton, was at her mum's house, in Horstead, on Sunday, when she needed medical assistance after falling ill at around 3pm in the afternoon.
Her daughter sat her in a chair and called 111 at 4.30pm and after 90 minutes a non-urgent ambulance was called.
The family received a follow-up call at 8pm saying there could be a possible eight-hour wait.
Ms Grodentz, 41, said: "When you ring the ambulance, they ask is she conscious, is she breathing, and if it is yes it's automatically non-emergency which I understand. I did not imagine it would be nine-and-a-half hours, these are the waiting times.
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"They said 'we are so sorry we are really busy, we will be there when we can be there.'"
At around 8pm she received another call assuring her she had not been forgotten, but that the wait could be eight hours.
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Ms Grodentz said she had been unable to move her mum from the chair to take her to A&E and called 999 at around midnight, where she was told an ambulance should arrive with 40 minutes.
The family waited until 3.25am for the crew, nine-and-a-half-hours after an ambulance was called.
Ms Grodentz said: "I never want to be in that situation again and people need to know what is going on."
The family praised the standard of care the Horstead resident received both from paramedics and currently in hospital.
The East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) has reported operations level as "very pressured" with warmer weather, large scale sporting events and the summer holidays making a "noticeable change" in the use of the service.
The trust said it was seeing a large number of acutely unwell patients.
A trust spokesman said: "We’re seeing higher levels of staff sickness than we normally would for August, and are putting in place measures to increase the numbers of crews we have on the road, including offering additional overtime. We continue to work with hospitals across the region to support timely patient handover.
"As a result, some patients may wait longer for an ambulance, or be contacted by clinicians to make their way to hospital or healthcare setting if appropriate."
The son of a 79-year-old woman said his mum waited 11 hours for an ambulance after falling in her kitchen at 6pm on Thursday, August 5.
The Aylsham resident, who has now had a partial hip operation, had managed to get up with the help of a neighbour and dialled 999 but would not be seen until 5am the next morning.
Her son, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "She needed to get to the toilet so we managed to manoeuvre her there and then got her into bed."
"During this time my mother was very upset and in a lot of pain – the result was she had fractured her hip. When asked on a scale of one to 10, she said nine.
"Eleven hours for an ambulance cannot be acceptable – at the very least I would have thought we might have seen a first responder."
He has written to Jerome Mayhew and Duncan Baker to make them aware of the situation.
Marcus Bailey, chief operating officer, said: “We have seen an increase in the number of 999 calls we are receiving and people can support the hard work of our staff by using services wisely."
On Monday a motorist reported seeing 20 ambulances waiting at around 4.30pm at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital's emergency department.
The trust sees around 150 ambulances a day at its emergency department, with numbers exceeding pre-pandemic levels in A&E.
A spokesman said: “We are seeing high numbers of people arriving at the emergency department and we continue to work closely with our NHS partners and the ambulance service to make sure patients are seen as quickly as possible."
Both the NNUH and EEAST urged patients to consider contacting their pharmacy, GP for non-urgent issues, or 111 for urgent health advice.
Former GP and North Norfolk District Council member Dr Victoria Holliday, who is working to improve response times in the district, said the issues were multifactorial ranging from staffing and ambulance resources, A&E capacity to staycation pressures.
The North Norfolk Coastal Ambulance Response Times Working Party has worked with the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) on improving the district's response times, which have been among the slowest in the country.
She said: "The times haven't come down but they have not got worse.
"They said they were pressured the last time we met. There is a post Covid build-up of illnesses, people being out and about, it is very busy with staycations. There is a whole combination of issues.
"Not all of the solutions fix all of the problems."
She added long delays of up to 11 hours "cannot be tolerated" but there was no one solution.
"The paramedics and the trust is doing their very best to make things better. They really care," she said.