Patient died waiting an hour for ambulance to come to life-threatening call

Tom Abell (inset) has been appointed chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service

Tom Abell (inset) has been appointed chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service - Credit: Brittany Woodman/EEAST

A patient died because so many ambulances were stuck outside a hospital that nobody could respond to their 999 call. 

Not one ambulance for a distance of almost 50 miles was free, meaning the woman had to wait for an hour for a crew to come from Ipswich last month.

By that time, they had died, according to papers which will go before bosses at the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) on Wednesday. 

The 999 call - from the Waveney area - was classed as the most urgent, meaning a crew was meant to be on the scene in eight minutes.

However, nine ambulances were stuck at the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston waiting to unload other patients.

Gorleston's James Paget University Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Gorleston's James Paget University Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

The ambulances were delayed at the hospital for more than five hours, the papers show.

A lack of space in hospitals has led to long delays across the region for ambulances to handover patients and crews warned last month that it was costing lives. 

Figures obtained by this newspaper, also reveal that ambulances were stuck outside Suffolk hospitals for at least an hour for a record 959 times in September.

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In another case a 66-year-old man who had a punctured lung lay on his kitchen floor for six hours, waiting for an ambulance.

Meanwhile, one stroke patient waited nine hours for a vehicle, while his wife called 999 six times. They have complained that the delay made his condition worse.

Waveney's Conservative MP Peter Aldous said he would raise the cases and issue of handover delays with the hospital, EEAST and Norfolk and Waveney's NHS.

"In the past problems have been focused on the Norfolk and Norwich, but it has extended across the patch which is a matter of serious concern and new measures need to be put in place," he said.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous said he was hopeful the region would be in the lowest of the three tiers Pic

Waveney MP Peter Aldous is against the cut and has previously written to Boris Johnson on the topic - Credit: Archant

Board papers show EEAST received 150 complaints in October about delays - up 66pc from September.

They warn: “There is the likelihood of avoidable harm continuing throughout the winter period.”

EEAST chief executive Tom Abell said over 12,000 hours of ambulance time were lost in October due to ambulances queuing outside hospitals for longer than 15 minutes.

He wrote he was “concerned and distressed… at the impact that this current situation is having on our ability to deliver the standard of care".

He added: "I am extremely sorry to those patients, families and colleagues which have been affected.”

Tom Abell has officially taken up his post as chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST). 

Tom Abell has officially taken up his post as chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST). - Credit: East of England Ambulance Service

Delays are being caused initially when ambulance crews check-in patients to A&E, according to one source, because there aren’t enough nurses on duty. There is then a delay while they wait for a bed to become free.

“A&E is chronically understaffed,” they said. “The staff have hundreds of other things to do so there are always delays handing over.”

To tackle this, EEAST said it was providing health care assistants to look after patients at hospitals, which would mean ambulance crews could get away. Mr Abell also said they were introducing a “rapid drop off system” for life-threatening emergencies. 

On 416 occasions in September it took ambulances more than an hour to drop off a patient and go to their next emergency call at Ipswich Hospital. That figure has quadrupled in a year, according to a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper. 

Last month NHS England bosses wrote to hospitals telling them to stop using ambulances as "additional emergency department cubicles". They wrote after two patients died in ambulances in hospital car parks in the region.

But so far that call appears to have had little effect. 

The figures were already worse in September than the peak of the winter crisis in January.

At Colchester Hospital there were hour-long delays for ambulances to get away 364 times in September, while at West Suffolk the figure was 179, similar to last winter. 

Neill Moloney is acting chief executive at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which runs Colchester and Ipswich hospitals.

He said: “Getting emergency ambulances back on the road as quickly as possible is a big priority for us.

"We have taken a number of actions in our emergency departments at Colchester and Ipswich hospitals and across the Trust to try and make this happen."

That included, he added, looking at providing extra beds. 

The Trust added that the main reason for handover delays in September was delayed discharges, meaning beds were not becoming free, and an increase in Covid cases.