Man froze to death while waiting 16 hours for an ambulance, whistleblower claims, while 19 more died or were harmed due to delays
A damning dossier compiled by a senior whistleblower from the region’s ambulance trust has claimed at least 40 patients died or were harmed due to delays over Christmas and New Year - including one person who froze to death.
The region’s NHS came under intense pressure in less than three weeks between mid-December and early January, with ambulances queuing outside A&E departments and patients reporting they were treated in corridors.
But the whistleblower, who wants to remain anonymous, revealed 19 people died in the east of England during the period and they expected the total number of patients harmed or dead due to delays to soar to around 80 when all cases had been reviewed.
A copy of the dossier seen by this newspaper included a man who waited 16 hours for an ambulance in Lowestoft on December 27.
The man was outside and no ambulance was sent when the first call was made by police.
Suffolk Police made a second call when they found the man, who apparently appeared to have frozen to death.
East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) said when the call was first made they were told the man was conscious and breathing and had no obvious injuries. Therefore the call was categorised as a non-emergency call.
When they received the second call a paramedic arrived within eight minutes but the man was dead.
In Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire the whistleblower’s document claimed nine people died and 10 were harmed during the period.
• December 18, in Norwich, a patient who was unable to move waited 11 hours and 46 minutes.
• December 19, in King’s Lynn, a person with a serious spinal injury waited for two hours.
• December 21, in Beccles, a patient with chest pain which worsened to a cardiac arrest died after a 44 minute wait.
• December 25, in Norwich, a person in cardiac arrest died after waiting 1 hour and 23 minutes.
• December 27, in Norwich, a patient with a possible hip fracture waited 11 hours and 25 minutes.
• December 29, in Thetford, a patient died after going into cardiac arrest and waiting one hour and 12 minutes.
• December 30, in Sheringham, an 89-year-old with a fractured hip or femur waited 12 hours and 38 minutes.
• December 30, in Norwich, a patient with a fractured hip waited 13 hours and 13 minutes.
• January 1, in Wells, a patient who had a stroke which was then progressed to a cardiac arrest died after a 55 minute wait.
• January 2, in King’s Lynn, a GP referred a seriously ill patient needing hospitalisation, waited six hours and 31 minutes.
• January 2, in Dereham, a patient fell and was left waiting 10 hours and 18 minutes.
After years of missed targets EEAST changed its response programme last year, but in the most serious cases crews are expected to arrive within seven minutes.
The whistleblower also accused senior executives of being on holiday during the crisis, and said some of the trust’s £2.5m surplus should have been spent on hiring extra staff.
EEAST denied this was the case and a spokesman said: “The trust absolutely refutes claims that there were no senior managers in over the Christmas period. In line with all ambulance trusts, this trust operates a gold command system, which consists a 24/7 on-call rota of the most senior operational managers who are highly experienced and well trained.”
He added: “The trust is on the public record stating that it has a gap between funded capacity and demand. It is good financial planning to ensure that the trust is in a position to hire any additional resources that may become available across the months of January, February and March. The trust is well placed to buy such resources where available.
“We are aware of the claims made by MPs but note no complaints have been received from patients or their families at this time. Nor have any concerns been expressed internally through our line management, whistleblowing or freedom to speak up processes.”
‘Trust had plans in place’
A trust spokesman added they “had plans in place however experienced extreme levels of demand over the new year period in particular.
“The trust was unable to respond to a very small number of the 50,000 calls we handled over a 15-day period as quickly as we would like. The trust is undertaking a rigorous analysis of that small proportion of calls.
“Where any suspected cases of potential harm are identified, then the trust will exercise it’s duty of candour to notify patients or their families. It is worth noting that any cause of death not certified by a doctor can only be established if there is a coroner’s case. It is best practice to always review the effectiveness of any plans and the trust will be doing that.
“Depending on any preliminary insight, the trust will invite an independent review of our decision making process. The trust has also requested a system wide review of these periods of high demand and lost capacity.”
Call for independent review
Former health minister Norman Lamb said the whistleblower had raised “very serious issues” with him.
Mr Lamb, the MP for north Norfolk, said: “It’s really shocking in my view, these are all suggestions which have been put to me but they are things which have to be fully investigated. I think there needs to be a urgent review by someone outside the trust.”
He said he had written to the health secretary Jeremy Hunt and regulators.
Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said he was “shocked and disgusted” at the revelations and questioned why the health secretary did not visit the ambulance trust when he was in the region on Thursday.
“He is ultimately responsible,” he said.
Mr Lewis raised concerns in the House of Commons on Wednesday after a whistleblower told him 20 people had died where ambulances arrived late.
It is not clear whether it was the same whistleblower.
NHS in crisis
The whistleblower’s claims came after demand in Norfolk’s NHS rocketed over the space of nearly three weeks.
Data from NHS Digital showed the county’s hospitals were completely full at points over Christmas and New Year. And ambulances were sent away from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital as A&E was too busy.
Extra cash was given to GPs surgeries to provide more appointments to ease the pressure and Norfolk County Council paid “golden hellos” to free up beds.
But patients with serious complaints told of hours waiting at A&E and some said they were treated in corridors, while bosses wrote to Theresa May to complain of “intolerable” conditions. However patients and health chiefs alike praised staff for their hard work in extremely challenging circumstances.
• Have you or your family been affected by ambulance delays? Email firstname.lastname@example.org