Significant ambulance delays likely to cause ‘severe harm’ to thousands of patients

22nd November 2021 Clinical Negligence

There have been widespread reports this week about the significant ambulance delays being experienced by patients, with some shocking stories of patients dying as a direct result. 

Shaun Lintern at the Independent has written in detail about how the recent unprecedented increase in 999 calls, coupled with the significant delays with patients being handed over to A&E departments which are buckling under pressure, is likely to cause severe harm to as many as 120,000 patients per year.  There are shocking stories emerging which demonstrate the extent of the problem.  One patient died outside a hospital because the A&E department was too busy to take her, despite her having very clear and worrying cardiac symptoms.  Another patient died after waiting more than an hour for an ambulance after an emergency 999 call was made.   There were anecdotal reports this week of one ambulance crew seeing and transferring only one patient in a 12.5-hour shift because the A&E department was too busy to accept the patient. 

I am extremely saddened but not surprised by these stories.  I am currently acting for the family of a man who died after waiting more than 4 hours for an ambulance when his family and friends made desperate 999 calls when he expressed suicidal thoughts.  The ambulance service failed to appropriately categorise Alex’s call and ambulances were sent to other patients, even though their procedures say he should have been prioritised.  By the time an ambulance arrived, more than four hours after the first 999 call, Alex was dead.  His wife and children have been left devastated by the loss of their husband and father, a charismatic family man who did not get the support he needed when he experienced a terrible mental health crisis. 

With the backlog of patients whose treatment has been delayed through the pandemic, the significant staff shortages within the NHS and the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, which will only worsen over the coming months, it is expected that this will be the worst winter ever for ambulance delays. There are currently very clear, systemic problems with health and social care, which means the system lacks the capacity to meet the rising patient demands. 

That this could affect any one of us in our moment of need is unnerving, to say the least, and this is not the level of care any of us should expect or accept in our most desperate or possibly our last moments.  We must at least hope that the ambulance service appropriately prioritises and categorises the most urgent calls in what will be an extremely difficult winter ahead. 

You can read about the family I am representing as a result of failings in ambulance care here (Independent website).

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Liz Davies is an Associate Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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