Anger As man Dies After Eight 999 Calls To Get An Ambulance

Wales’ ambulance service was plunged into fresh crisis yesterday as an inquiry was launched into the death of a patient who needed eight 999 calls to get him to hospital.

News of the death, together with reports of a road accident victim left waiting on a wet road for two hours, followed a day of chaos in the Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan area on Monday when patients were warned only to call ambulances for life-or-death emergencies.

Critics last night branded the service “worse than the Third World”, while even the Assembly Health Minister conceded the situation had reached crisis point.

The unnamed elderly patient is understood to have died before he arrived at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, on Monday, after eight desperate 999 calls were made to take him to hospital.

A spokesman for the ambulance service said, “We would like to extend our sympathy to the family. We are working hard to establish exactly what happened in this particular case. Our crews did the very best they could but unfortunately there were delays in responding to calls because of the severe problems we were facing.”

Health Minister Brian Gibbons yesterday told the Assembly the problems that led to chaos at UHW and among the ambulance service were due to “quite exceptional” circumstances caused by Thursday and Friday’s heavy snowfall.

He explained it had led to bed-blocking problems as patients who would otherwise have been transferred to their homes could not be taken because of the severe gridlock on South Wales’ roads.

And medics were then left further struggling to cope with double the normal amount of emergency calls – some resulting from people calling several times for ambulances to arrive.

Mr Gibbons said, “If you want to call it a crisis, I think that sense of crisis was there.” He added, “The case of this gentleman is very, very tragic and the seriousness of this situation is such that an immediate review is being undertaken into this incident to clarify why this situation developed as it did.”

Jenny Randerson, Lib-Dem Assembly health spokeswoman, said, “This is worse than a Third World country. If a well-predicted snowfall causes this kind of knock-on effect and chaos, what would happen if we had a true emergency?”

The Welsh Ambulance Service’s “major incident special emergency”, restricting services in Cardiff and parts of the Vale of Glamorgan to urgent cases, was finally called off on Monday evening.

During the day one elderly pedestrian was left waiting on the road for an ambulance more than two hours after she was hit by a car.

Six voluntary ambulance crews from St John Cymru were called in to help services across South Wales.

Plaid AM Leanne Wood said, “I think the Health Minister is being dangerously complacent if he thinks this problem is a one-off. It would be tantamount to negligence for a patient in a genuine emergency to be left waiting for as much as two hours for an ambulance or be forced to make as many as eight phone calls to 999 before getting a response. Urgent action is now required. The Minister has got to get a grip on the situation. Patients should never have to suffer this again.”

Accident and emergency services at UHW were also stretched on Monday, with a tent erected to shelter patients waiting to be seen by A&E staff.

A spokesperson for Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust last night said, “The emergency unit at the University Hospital of Wales remains under great pressure, with high numbers of patients coming through our doors. We continue to use every available resource to make sure that our patients are treated as quickly and effectively as possible.”