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Saturday, 20 December 2014

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Grave concerns over ambulance delays

THE North East Ambulance Service has been heavily criticised for “scandalous” delays after people were left waiting for urgent treatment in three separate incidents in Tynedale.

A man of 98 was left lying on the pavement in Hexham for an hour and 40 minutes last week, just a quarter of a mile from the town’s hospital.

When an ambulance did turn up, it was a 4x4 which had travelled from Stanhope, in Weardale.

And at Haltwhistle, a woman of 92, who had broken her arm in three places, had to wait 55 minutes for an ambulance.

Meanwhile, children looked on in horror as a woman in her 30s who had suffered an epileptic fit at a school fete waited 45 minutes for an ambulance.

Hexham’s MP Guy Opperman has now demanded an urgent inquiry into the three cases.

The most damning case occurred on Thursday afternoon, when the 98 year old fell and injured his back in Cattle Market, Hexham.

Although fire crews and local police officers attended within minutes, the ambulance did not arrive for an hour and 40 minutes.

Lynne Mundy, a worker at Watsonia Florist, was on duty when the man collapsed outside the shop. She said: “I think it is shocking that somebody so elderly has had to lie on the concrete for so long.

“It seems ridiculous that they could not get this man to the hospital which is not even half a mile away from here.”

The ambulance service claimed it had dispatched an ambulance from its Hexham station, but because the man’s situation was classified as a non-life threatening incident, it was diverted to another call deemed a higher priority.

Haltwhistle’s Ken Buchanan said his 92-year-old mother Betty was left lying on the pavement for almost an hour on June 21, after suffering a fall in the west end of town.

An ambulance was called at 7.41pm, but did not arrive until 8.35pm.

Mr Buchanan said: “My mother was in a lot of distress but we didn’t want to move her because we didn’t know what her injuries were.

“Residents from nearby houses came out and we gave her a pillow and covered her because she was cold. We tried to keep her as comfortable as possible.

“I’ve never felt so helpless. I shouldn’t have to decide whether or not to leave my mother on the pavement. I didn’t know what to do for the best.”

When the ambulance did arrive, Mrs Buchanan was taken to the Cumberland Infirmary, at Carlisle, where she was found to have broken her arm in three places.

The ambulance service said this call also fell into the non-emergency category, and insisted a crew attended Mrs Buchanan within 39 minutes.

At Monday’s meeting of Haltwhistle Town Council, Coun. Margaret Forrest described the ambulance response as “scandalous and beyond belief.”

The third incident involved a woman, who took ill while attending the Sele First School summer fair, in Hexham.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, the woman was attended to by an off-duty doctor, and received oxygen from firefighters who were at the event.

But one shocked eyewitness said it was 45 minutes before an ambulance arrived – despite the call being categorised as a top priority.

The bystander said: “It was quite distressing for all the children who didn’t know what was going on. Everybody thought it was disgusting that this was not seen as more of a priority.”

The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) insists an ambulance was at the scene in 20 minutes, and that the call had been categorised as a red alert, for top priority incidents.

However, a spokesman said the service was experiencing a busy period of calls, and crews were already committed to other patients elsewhere.

The spokesman, said “The ambulance service is an emergency service, and cases where life is in danger always take priority. At certain times when we are dealing with cardiac arrests and serious trauma, our response to non-life threatening incidents can take longer.

“All UK ambulance services have a target of reaching the most serious ‘red’ cases within eight minutes, 75 per cent of the time.

“This is a target NEAS is achieving, and regularly exceeds. There is no national target response time for non-life-threatening calls – though we do try to attend to all of our patients as quickly as possible.”

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