PRIME Minister David Cameron has promised to investigate ambulance response times in the North-East after delays left an 85-year-old woman lying on the floor for almost five hours waiting for paramedics.
Florence McNeilly fell in the bathroom of her home in Darlington at 6pm but paramedics did not arrive at the scene until 10.45pm.
Her daughter, Sue McNeilly, 58, made repeated calls to the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) control centre during the incident earlier this month, only to be told that there were more urgent calls taking precedence.
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Ms McNeilly said the wait for an ambulance had been distressing for her mother, who is now living in a care home, and that she wanted to speak out in an attempt to prevent similar delays in future.
In a statement NEAS apologised to Mrs McNeilly for the delay and said paramedics aimed to reach patients with non-life threatening conditions within 30 minutes, but that without further details they could not comment specifically on her case.
The delay involving Mrs McNeilly follows an earlier incident in Newton Aycliffe when an ambulance called to 82-year-old Jessie Higginbottom, who was vomiting blood, took almost four hours to arrive.
Her son, Bob Clark, 60, said that when he asked ambulance control about the delay, staff said Mrs Higginbottom’s case was not urgent and there were high levels of calls.
Darlington MP Jenny Chapman raised both incidents during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday (Wednesday, March 26).
Mr Cameron said response targets were in place for all ambulance services and added: “I’m very happy to look to see what happened in this case and if there are lessons to be learned for the future.”
Ms McNeilly said she was pleased to hear that her mother’s case had reached the highest levels of government.
She said: “Mum fell just after 6pm in the bathroom, straight on to her face. She was complaining of pain in her shoulder and although me and my daughter tried to get her into a comfortable position we couldn’t do it.
“I called 999 and they deemed her to be a non-emergency – they said she would have to wait up to an hour for an ambulance.
“But then 7pm came and 8pm. I kept calling and each time the call handlers just asked if she was still breathing and gave me some checks to do.
“They said there were other emergencies, which I fully appreciate, but I was so distressed.”
Mrs McNeilly was eventually lifted from the floor and checked over by paramedics, who found she had minor injuries to her head but did not need hospital treatment.
Her daughter said: “There’s no way I would exaggerate the condition my mother was in just to get her seen quicker. I know that emergencies have to be seen first but to wait four hours is the thin end of the wedge.”
Mrs Chapman said she had concerns about ambulance response times in Darlington and had arranged a meeting with NEAS chief executive Simon Featherstone next week to discuss the matter.
She said: “I raised the issue in Prime Minister’s Questions because the issue of ambulance waiting times and delays in the health service as a whole aren’t getting any better.
“It’s not just ambulances; it’s about delays in A&E and GP services. The whole system is under pressure.”
An NEAS spokeswoman said: “We are very sorry that Florence had to wait so long and would urge her family to get in touch so we can investigate this fully.
“For patients who do not have a potentially life-threatening condition there is no national standard for us to respond, although we aim to have an ambulance arrive within 30 minutes where we can.
“An increase in pressure across the entire health system has contributed to higher demand for ambulances, particularly for those who do not have an immediate life-threatening need.
“Without more details on this particular incident, it is very difficult for us to review the circumstances surrounding our response to Florence.”