Ambulance Service Improvement Needed, Inquest Hears

21 January 2014

Ambulance Service Improvement Needed, Inquest Hears

A coroner has said that if an ambulance had arrived within its eight-minute target time it would have probably have saved the life of a man who lay dying at home for more than 40 minutes. An inquest into the death of Fred Pring, 74 of Flintshire, heard how his wife Joyce had first called 999 for help but which actually arrived 42 minutes later. By the time it had arrived it was too late.

The coroner in North East Wales, John Gittins, said that the extremely late arrival of paramedic help for Mr Pring jeopardised his chances of survival and that changes need to be made urgently to help reduce the risk of future deaths. Mr Pring had died of heart disease and pulmonary disease, two particular conditions that require swift medical assistance.

"Although it cannot be established with certainty that Mr Pring would have survived if help had reached him sooner, it is probable that if an ambulance had arrived promptly after the first call (within the target response time of eight minutes), he would have lived long enough to be transported to hospital where further medical treatment would have optimised the prospects of his survival," Mr Gittins said.

Gill Pleming of the ambulance service told the inquest on Friday that on the day Mr Pring died in March 2013 there was adequate ambulance cover for the area of Flintshire and Wrexham, but that the actual time Mrs Pring first called for medical help, there were no ambulances available.

The coroner expressed his concern that if action was not taken urgently, similar such circumstances can heighten the risk of death when an emergency presents itself.

The Welsh Ambulance Service and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said they had deep regret regarding the case and its effects on the family of Mr Pring, from Mynydd Isa, near Mold.

In a joint statement, they said they had made a "number of improvements since March 2013".

"We extend our condolences to the Pring family at what is a very sad and difficult time," they said.

"It is with deep regret that on this occasion there was no ambulance available to send to Mr Pring in a timely manner.

"It is our responsibility to ensure we have a safe, effective and high-quality urgent care system, and together we are working hard to reduce any delays in transferring patients to hospital."

Mr Pring was in extreme pain when his wife Joyce first telephoned 999 for help, the hearing was told. He had been receiving treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was crying in pain. Despite his condition and calling 999 three times she was told the service was "very busy" in her area. On the fourth call she told the service they were "too late" and that Mr Pring had died.

At the hearing the full picture of the length of delays and inefficiency of the ambulance services was laid bare. One ambulance spent almost five hours waiting at Wrexham Maelor Hospital to drop off a patient, while another ambulance had been there for more than 90 minutes. The handover time of patients to the emergency department was seen to be unacceptably long with patients waiting in ambulances for too long, the overall consequence being that ambulance resources were unavailable for allocation to other calls.

The coroner added: "Whilst I fully appreciate that this is a multi-factorial problem, improvements must be made so as to reduce the risk of future deaths."

Mrs Pring issued her own statement after the inquest saying she felt "particularly let down that I was led to believe that help was on its way when it so obviously wasn't".

"Until the medical personnel are with the patient, it is not possible to know what the outcome will be, therefore it is essential they get to the patient as quickly as possible.

"I sincerely hope that my husband's death will lead to improvements in the way the Welsh Ambulance Trust and the hospitals manage their services especially in respect of the handovers of patients to A and E departments."

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