THE family of an 83-year-old woman who died in hospital after a series of delays described the NHS as at “breaking point”.

Sheila Briddick, from Darlington, died on September 5 last year after her health rapidly deteriorated as a result of sepsis following a leg infection.

An inquest into her death heard the great great grandmother, a former Cummins factory worker, had waited more than five hours for an ambulance on the day before her death and then spent a further 72 minutes waiting on a trolley in the A&E at Darlington Memorial Hospital before being admitted because no beds were available.

Recording death by natural causes, coroner Oliver Longstaff said it was impossible for him to say whether an earlier admission to hospital or earlier administration of medicine could have prevented her death.

Vivien McKeown, her daughter, said: “As a family we will always ask the question ‘what if’.

“She deserved much better treatment for what turned out to be the last day of her life."

“At the end of the day we will never know if mum would have survived had she been given appropriate treatment earlier because that just did not happen.”

Crook Coroner’s Court heard the receptionist at Mrs Briddick’s GP surgery had requested a non-emergency ambulance attend her home after becoming concerned about her at 4.44pm on September 4.

Initially a single crewed vehicle was requested, but when it arrived just before 5.30pm, the driver said he thought a double crewed ambulance was needed as Mrs Briddick was not mobile.

An ambulance arrived at 9.44pm, by which point she had deteriorated and was “screaming in agony”, the inquest heard.

After paramedics used blue lights to transfer her to hospital, she was then left on a trolley in reception for 72 minutes before being admitted at 12.26am.

She was given antibiotics for the infection at 2.35am, more than three hours after paramedics pre-alerted the hospital she was suspected as having sepsis.

Dr Szugyicczki, who treated Mrs Briddick said: "I'm not able to say if it could have changed the outcome. She was elderly and frail.

"It may have, or it may not have changed the outcome.

"It progressed rapidly."

The inquest heard the hospital had no free beds when Mrs Briddick arrived.

Meanwhile North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) was short of 17 operatives on the shift and was experiencing high demand, said the service's Lyndsey Tunn. She said: "The service was very pressured and had limited resources."

She added the service had been escalated to level three, of five, which she said occurred "often".

Describing A&E as "Bedlam", Mrs McKeown added: “Our NHS is under resourced, understaffed and in crisis. It is at breaking point."

“On that particular night in A&E it could only be described as Bedlam with the waiting room full to capacity and emergency cases waiting in the reception area.

“The medical staff were rushed off their feet but still maintained their professionalism. The ambulance crew that came out were fabulous – I just wish they could have got there sooner.”

A spokesperson for County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said, “We offer our deepest condolences to Mrs Briddick’s family. We would like to assure them we value and take all feedback seriously, identifying learning and any changes we can make.”

A NEAS spokesperson added: “We offer our sincere condolences to Mrs Briddick’s family and would once again like to apologise to her family for the delay she experienced.

"We have undertaken a thorough investigation of this case and have identified a number of areas to improve, which we have reported back to Mrs Briddick’s family.”