Winter is always a difficult time for the NHS. But thanks to the knock-on effects of Covid, the limits of the NHS capacity are only too obvious. Nowhere are the NHS problems more exposed than in the ambulance service. A lack of beds for arriving patients means that paramedics, who in the past completed 7 or 8 jobs in a shift, are now forced to wait in a queue until beds become available. And response times become longer and longer.
The graphic ITV report (23 Nov) below shows the effects of waiting on one family.
A son whose mother died whilst waiting almost an hour for an ambulance after making seven 999 calls, has told ITV News how he tried to save her as she screamed “I’m dying, hurry up”.
Akshay Patel was woken in the middle of the night by his mum, Bina, who was struggling to breathe at their home in Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside on October 11.
He desperately tried to keep his 56-year-old mother – who had diabetes but no other long-term health conditions – alive while he repeatedly called for an ambulance as her condition deteriorated.
But by the time paramedics finally arrived at their home almost an hour later, the mother-of-two had no pulse.
Mr Patel believes his mother’s death could have been avoided and is now demanding answers from North West Ambulance Service as to why an ambulance took so long.
Mr Patel, who lived with his mother following his father’s death, told ITV News: “No one should go through anything like that ever in their life.
“Sometimes I think could I have done more? But what can I do? I’m not a doctor.
“I tried, I called the people that should’ve come and helped.”
Mr Patel shared his story as ambulance waiting times in England were at their longest on record in October.
In England, the average response time for a category two call, like the one Mr Patel made, is currently 53 minutes – nearly triple the 18 minute target, according to the latest NHS data.
But in the North West, patients are waiting even longer – one hour and seven minutes.
Mr Patel explained how he first called for an ambulance at 2.30am. When it didn’t arrive, he called again at 2.52am, 3.03am, 3.10am, 3.17am, 3.23am and another a few seconds later.
During two of the distressing 999 calls, heard by ITV News, Ms Patel can be heard screaming “I’m dying” as her son desperately tries to calm her and asks call handlers if he can do anything to help her.
A patient report completed by North West Ambulance Service shows an ambulance was on the way to the scene at 3.18am.
But by the paramedics arrived, Ms Patel was already dead. A report from the ambulance service says she suffered a ‘suspected cardiac arrest’.
“The situation could’ve been different if they arrived on time,” Mr Patel told ITV News.
“I genuinely believe the system is broken. I mean, we waited a time that no one in the world should have to wait for an ambulance. It’s beyond a joke.”
Mr Patel is now raising funds in honour of his “caring, supportive and loving” mother to donate to the British Heart Foundation.
A North West Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We wish to pass on our deepest sympathies to Mr Patel and his family for the loss of his mother.
“We can confirm we have received an official complaint, and the investigation is ongoing. We are in contact with the family and will update them with our findings.”
While the North West Ambulance Service is investigating the incident, there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the emergency service call handler.
Extracts of the 999 calls:
ITV News has heard two of the distressing 999 calls Mr Patel made on October 11. He made seven calls in total.
At the start of the second call made at 2.52am, a call handler is heard asking him if the patient [Ms Patel] is breathing, he responds: “She’s struggling now. I have called an ambulance… She’s struggling to breathe”.
Ms Patel can be heard screaming loudly in the background and says numerous times: “I’m dying”.
Mr Patel says: “She’s not dying, she’s just struggling to breathe.”
The call handler asks: “Has she gotten worse since your last call?” Mr Patel responds “yes”.
He is asked if his mother has difficulty speaking between breaths and if she has flu-like symptoms, to which he says “yes” to both.
After asking for a series of details, such as his and Ms Patel’s names, their relation to one another and their address, the call handler says: “I’m organising help for you now, so stay on the line and I’ll tell you exactly what to do.
“We’re very busy and we aim to be with you as soon as possible, or as soon as we have an ambulance available,” she adds.
“Currently, it’s likely to be over an hour and a half – but that’s from your first call.”
“Have you got anything sooner?… Is there anything I can do in the meantime?” Mr Patel asks.