On Friday afternoon, I was walking home through the town centre, it was bitterly cold, the wind was biting and my feet were frozen. As I turned to cut through Church Street, an elderly lady ahead of me, tripped over the kerb and crashed on to the pavement, with the brunt of the force hitting her head hard. She cried out for help, a handful of people rushed to her, jolted back into reality by what they had just witnessed. There was blood dripping down her face and her body began to shake. Fighting back tears, she told me her name was Anne, I held her hand, threw my coat over her and reassured her that help would soon be on its way.
I pulled off my gloves and dialled ‘999’ and was told in a rather robotic way, that Anne could be waiting for up to two hours for an ambulance to arrive. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; Anne was a 71 year old lady, with a deep head wound, it was freezing cold and in the middle of the town centre. The information was repeated and I was told what to do if she lost consciousness. I felt panicked, two hours?? I returned to her side and continued to talk to her, asking questions about her grandchildren and what she had planned to do that day, she kept closing her eyes and I grew concerned that she was going to stop responding.
A hair dresser, ran out with piles of towels to use as blankets, as temperatures plummeted to around 3 degrees Celsius. The lady was frightened, shaking with cold and was pleading for help.
I could feel the concern growing between the small group of passers by that had formed to care for Anne. After half an hour, with no sign of any help, I called the emergency services again and was again told the wait would still be up to two hours. There was disbelief and frustration as I relayed this information. After a long and freezing ordeal, the ambulance team finally arrived and Anne was taken to hospital, and after a phone call that evening I discovered that fortunately she was expected to make a full recovery.
I was in such disbelief that I have since contacted the Patient Experience Department at East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, and they told me, “Whilst in an ideal world the ambulance service would be able to offer a timely response to everyone who dials 999, the reality is that we do not have enough ambulances to achieve that all of the time, and in some cases an emergency ambulance is not the right response for the patient’s clinical need. This is the why the Department of Health has an approved priority list of emergencies which all UK ambulance services have adopted.”
I also found a report published by the Care Quality Commision in June of this year which stated that overall the ambulance trust “requires improvement”.
Ambulance waiting times were also, quite rightly, the subject of debate in the House of Commons in October 2016. Mr Phillip Dunne, the Minister of State for Health, advised the Commons that the Government plan to support the NHS with an extra £10 billion by 2020/21, some of which will be used for the ambulance service.
We are inundated by media reports of ongoing debates and arguments over NHS funding on a daily basis, perhaps we are becoming desensitized to them now. But the bare bones of the crisis are clear to see, an elderly lady left bleeding on a frozen pavement for nearly two hours, is beyond unacceptable.