News Commentary: The Ambulance Is Delayed

February 8, 2019

News reports yesterday (Thursday February 8, 2019) highlighted the case of Mark Clements, living in London, whose 77-year-old mother Margaret was injured in a fall at her home in Devon. Mr Clements, aged 48, spent four hours travelling from London to reach her, catching a bus, two London Underground tube services and two mainline trains, and still got to her before the ambulance that had been called did.

   A 999 call for an ambulance was made two hours before Mr Clements set out on his journey and the nearest ambulance station was only ten minutes away – yet he arrived first, joining other family members. Paramedics eventually arrived an hour later, meaning Mark Clements’ mother had been waiting in pain for an astonishing seven hours.

   The incident raises further concerns about overstretched ambulance services. In December, the Daily Mail reported that tens of thousands of emergency patients, including heart attack and stroke victims, spent more than 60 minutes waiting for an ambulance to take them to hospital.

   Mr. Clements said that by the time the ambulance did arrive, his mother was in so much distress that she wanted to die. Having suffered a broken hip in a fall at her home, she had lain on the floor in intense  pain since the accident. ‘How do you comfort somebody when they’re in so much pain?’ he asked.

   The first 999 call was made at 9am and Mr Clements left his home in London just after 11am, reaching his mother’s home in Exmouth, a distance of 178 miles, by 3pm. The ambulance arrived at 4pm. South Western Ambulance Service has apologised for the time taken to respond and said it been due to an ‘unprecedented rise in demand’ due to the bad weather.

   The family has made a formal complaint against South Western Ambulance Service and a spokesman for the NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘The patient was assessed by staff in our 999 clinical control hub, and there was considered to be no immediate threat to life’.

   As I pointed out in my book, ‘Comments of a Common Man’, this problem of lengthy delays waiting for an ambulance is not new; over 20 years ago, I witnessed a similar incident, in which a man lay in a sports centre hall with a broken leg for hours, waiting in pain after a collision with an opponent in a five-a-side football game. Yet next door to the centre was the local ambulance station, with a fully serviceable and kitted out ambulance inside - but no crew to drive it.

   Why is it that the UK seems to fail so miserably in so many areas of daily life, in so many aspects of providing basic necessities for its people? It is a country in which the cost of merely staying alive has gone beyond the means of many, where food banks now are the only way for people to get enough to eat. It is a country where the numbers of homeless people continue to rise as more and more cannot afford a home.

   Part of the answer lies with the statement above from the NHS spokesman. Look at two parts of the terms used; ‘…our 999 clinical control hub…’ is the first. The UK has become obsessed with slick slogans and eye-catching titles. This same phenomenon arises in many other areas of life. ‘Branding’ matters more than any pretence of actual service. As long as it ‘looks good’ that’s enough. The second interesting part of the statement, and one specific to the NHS, is this; ‘…there was considered to be no immediate threat to life’.

   In other words, as long as somebody isn’t actually dying, the NHS couldn’t care less. No matter how traumatic the incident, no matter how much pain one may endure, if there is ‘no immediate threat to life’, the NHS will do nothing. The most oft-quoted reason for the lack of response by the NHS is that it doesn’t have enough money to provide a better one. Yet it has enough cash to spend on six-figure salaries for Chief Executive Officers and Senior Managers.

   But it can’t pay for enough ambulance crews.

   Priorities in the UK went awry some years ago but none of this is solely the fault of the wicked Tories and their savage cuts – the incident referred to above at the sports centre happened under Tony Blair’s Labour. Both the two main political parties have spent too much time – and taxpayer’s money – posturing and posing rather than actually doing the job that they are elected to do.

   Should that change then people like Mark Clements’ mother might spend less time waiting interminably for help when they need it. The UK’s inability to do anything has been and remains adversely affected by ineffective, weak politicians, supported by legions and layers of highly paid managers with little or no experience of real life for real people.

 

© Kevan James 2019.

 

 

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