Hundreds left waiting for ambulances, says whistleblower as boss apologises
Hundreds of patients were left waiting for emergency ambulances in the Midlands over the weekend because there were no vehicles available to take the calls, a whistleblower has claimed.
A paramedic working for West Midlands Ambulance Service claimed that the service was "in crisis", and that lives were being put at risk.
Ambulance chief executive Anthony Marsh apologised for the delays experienced by some patients, saying the past week had seen two of the three busiest days on record.
Mr Marsh said Monday had been the busiest day in the history of West Midlands Ambulance Service, with 5,001 calls received, and Sunday had been the third busiest with 4,451 calls.
He said: “Due to the snow, we had already put considerably more resources on duty than we would normally have done at this time, yet this was still not enough to deal with all of the cases in a timely manner. For this I am sorry.
“Although we were able to resource all of the most serious incidents, unfortunately, some patients with less serious conditions did wait much longer than we would have wanted."
'Patients suffering for longer than they need to'
The whistle-blower, who asked not to be named, said that at mid-afternoon on Sunday the service had 251 "emergency" and 12 "urgent" calls waiting for a response, but with just two vehicles free across the area.
In the West Mercia division, which includes Shropshire, there were 50 calls requiring an ambulance, but just one vehicle available, the source told the Shropshire Star. A total of 62 vehicles were in service in West Mercia at the time.
In the Black Country area, the situation was even more severe, with 70 outstanding cases, but only 59 vehicles on duty – and just one free to take a call.
For Staffordshire, there were 17 cases awaiting a response, but none of the 55 vehicles it had on duty were free to take a call. The Birmingham area had 74 cases outstanding, but just 62 vehicles on duty and none available to take the calls.
"In summary, that's 263 cases with only two emergency vehicles available", said the paramedic, who has several years' service.
"This is just the calls with nobody to send.
"Endlessly, day after day, we are seeing patients suffering for longer than they need to and we are at the sharp end when inevitably their families have been put through unnecessary stress and anxiety waiting for an emergency ambulance."
The whistle-blower claimed that people were dying as a result.
"In the last week I have personally attended an incident where a lady was witnessed to collapse by her worried family, who called 999," the paramedic said.
"Ten minutes later she stopped talking and five minutes after that she stopped breathing. It was a further 20 minutes after she stopped breathing we arrived. I confirmed her deceased because we had simply taken too long to get to her."
The paramedic claimed that at the time of the backlog, the service had several crews on compulsory 45-minute breaks, which bosses insisted on being taken at a certain time so as not to trigger a £10 compensation clause.
This was denied by the trust, which said it was the choice of the individual paramedic whether they wanted to take an uninterrupted break, where they could be left undisturbed, or a "disrupted" break where they would still be on call, and would receive a payment if they were called on.
Volume of calls
Murray MacGregor, communications director for West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said the crews had done enormously well during very difficult conditions over the weekend, and could not understand why somebody would make the claims.
He said the weather and sheer volume of calls had inevitably impacted on response times.
"There has been a lot of snow lately, and that does slow our ability to get to jobs, we had ambulances stuck in 8ft snowdrifts," said Mr MacGregor.
"When you get snow, undoubtedly the number of people calling 999 increases. We got lots of calls, on-going calls relating to falls, we had a patient who injured their back, and you have to get them safely to the hospital."
Mr Marsh said he was concerned that many people had seemingly ignored other NHS services and felt the need to dial 999.
“An increase in cases due to the snow was expected but the fact that call numbers have spiked upwards so sharply since that period is very worrying," he said.
"We will be looking into the cases to try and work out whether there are any patterns or reasons behind such rises."
Mr Marsh paid tribute to staff who had worked tirelessly over the past few days, going beyond the call of duty to ensure patients received he care needed.
"Many staff volunteered to do additional overtime shifts, while others stayed late or started earlier to help out," he said.
“I would also like to thank the many volunteers such as our community first responders, 4x4 organisations and members of the public who have helped us over recent days. The sense of community has been extraordinary."