Heart victim says ambulance service is 'barely fit for purpose' after being left waiting for hours in Woodford Halse

A Woodford Halse man has complained about being stranded with a suspected heart attack after an ambulance failed to turn up.
Rob Johnson with his partner Trudy Thornton, who had to drive him to the Horton from Woodford HalseRob Johnson with his partner Trudy Thornton, who had to drive him to the Horton from Woodford Halse
Rob Johnson with his partner Trudy Thornton, who had to drive him to the Horton from Woodford Halse

Rob Johnson, who has a cardiac condition, woke in the night with serious chest pains. He and his partner Trudy Thornton - both are experienced first aiders - realised the emergency and called 999.

The operator agreed Mr Johnson needed immediate help and said he would call a First Responder in Woodford and also dispatch an ambulance.

"An hour later there was no First Responder and no sign of an ambulance," said Mr Johnson.

"Trudy rang 999 again. She was told an ambulance had not yet been tasked with our call. A few minutes later a call centre paramedic phoned back. He said I needed to be seen in hospital. I asked how long the ambulance would be. Hewas not able to give me an estimated time as an ambulance had still not been despatched.

"We decided the quickest way to get me to a hospital was for Trudy to drive me herself. The nearest hospital with A&E facilities is the Horton General Hospital in Banbury. Despite being only 20 minutes away this journey was daunting."

Mr Johnson described the A361 from Woodford Halse to Banbury as 'little more than a twisting, rural country road, in poor condition and mostly unlit' and with poor mobile phone coverage.

"Had I gone into cardiac arrest Trudy would have had to drag me out of her Mini onto the side of this quite dangerous, unlit road in the pouring rain to perform CPR. Fortunately, I am still here to tell the tale with no thanks to the ambulance service," he said.

Mr Johnson said his condition was a category 2 classification, requiring an ambulance to arrive within an average time of 18 minutes and with 90 per cent of calls being attended within 40 minutes. He said he and Ms Thornton had waited two hours in vain.

"In the fifth largest economy in the world this performance is just not good enough. Much as it saddens me to say it, today's UK ambulance service is barely fit for purpose, putting at risk the lives of the very people it is supposed to serve.

"In failing to meet the required standards it is my view the service is professionally negligent and may be in breach of a number of statutory regulations - a situation I intend to investigate further."

East Midlands Ambulance Service said the delay was caused by ambulances stacking up at other hospitals, waiting to hand over patients.

Ms Thornton said her second call to the emergency services was met with a statement that it was 'not unprecedented ' volume... just the 'same as normal'.

"After another hour I called back - still no dispatched vehicle. A paramedic called and confirmed we definitely needed to be seen urgently but again no ambulance was available for dispatch - nor any approximate timescale," she said.

"I was, frankly, terrified. I've had to administer CPR before. It's an exhausting and lonely experience and that time I knew a crew were en route."

Mr Johnson said the Horton emergency team was 'great', dealing with two critical cases as well as himself. His condition was suspected to be a neurological cause but medics agreed the symptoms sounded like a heart attack.

The couple wants to know whether first responders with a defibrillator are dispatched if there is no ambulance to support them and why there is such a shortage of ambulances. Ms Thornton said there was no backlog of ambulances at the Horton.

"Thank God the Horton is open. A drive to Oxford would have been unbearable," she said.

Martin Claydon, Service Delivery Manager for Northamptonshire at East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) said: "“We are really sorry we were not able to reach Mr Johnson sooner and that our response time on this occasion fell below the standard we aim to provide.

“When we are busy, we have to prioritise patients with the most immediately life-threatening conditions. Using the information shared during the initial call, this incident was categorised as serious but not immediately life-threatening.

“At the time we were responding to a number of people whose life was reported to be at immediate risk. Until an ambulance was available, our Clinical Assessment Team of nurses and paramedics provided additional support over the telephone to Mr Johnson and those who were helping him.

“At the time of the call, the NHS was experiencing high demand and hospital staff were not able to accept a clinical handover from our crews in a timely manner. This means several of our ambulance crews were delayed at the hospital in the area. We do not have an infinite number of ambulances and when hospital handover delays occur, patients in the community waiting for a response to their emergency 999 call can experience a delay.

“EMAS has continued to escalate handover delay concerns to commissioners and regulators particularly about patient safety and where possible will continue to work very closely with NHS and social care partners to improve the welfare of our patients and staff.”

“We are currently in contact with Mr Johnson through our Patient Advice and Liaison Service and would like to speak to him and his family so that we can fully investigate the reason for this delay.”

The incident happened in the early hours of Sunday, December 1.