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Apology over heart attack patient’s one-hour ambulance wait

Bill Ritchie has received an apology from the ambulance service over the length of time it took to reach him while he was suffering a heart attack.

A heart attack patient left waiting an hour for urgent transport to hospital has spoken out, fearing lives could be at risk.

Bill Ritchie’s ordeal began when he found himself coughing and struggling to breathe at his Tarland home on Friday, June 4.

But he made his own way to the nearest hospital five miles away in Aboyne because he didn’t want to bother the emergency services.

Upon arriving, however, the 60-year-old realised the building was closed – as it has been since the start of the pandemic.

He initially thought he was suffering the symptoms of Covid and, as he felt his condition continue to worsen, dialled 999 and asked for an ambulance.

It was only then that he realised the nearest ambulance depot was based in a town 13 miles away.

“As far as I was aware, there was a depot at the end of the road,” Bill said.

“But I didn’t know they’d closed it to emergency situations, so it’s now just the sort-of taxi service for taking people to hospital.

“That means the nearest ambulance is in Banchory.”

‘Somebody older might not have survived’

Bill estimates it took around one hour for help to arrive – but it did so in the form of a single crew.

And when its staff realised he was having a heart attack, they had to task another vehicle to take him to the emergency department at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

A two-person crew is needed to transfer patients to hospital.

Bill has now received an apology from the ambulance service.

“I can’t fault these guys for doing their job,” he said.

“I’m just disappointed with how everything was done – that the ambulance service doesn’t have the fleet there that’s required for the job.

“Somebody 20 years older might not have survived that, and they’re the ones who’ve worked all their lives and paid the National Insurance for a service they’re not getting.”

Bill spent around a fortnight receiving treatment in hospital and is now recovering at home.

He hopes that, by sharing his story, he could prevent others from finding themselves in his situation.

He has also spoken to Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett about his concerns.

“It’s the first time in my life I’ve felt strongly enough to go and contact my MSP,” Bill added.

“But I think people’s lives are important.”

Wait time ‘absolutely shocking’

Alexander Burnett said the scenario provides “evidence” that emergency vehicles should not be despatched with single crew members.

“The case involving Mr Ritchie is absolutely shocking and I’m extremely concerned at the length of time he was left waiting for an ambulance,” he added.

“No-one should have to suffer that traumatic experience, especially when they are in such a life-threatening situation.

“NHS Grampian and the Scottish Ambulance Service work round the clock to keep the north-east safe but he has been badly let down by the lack of rural ambulance provision in Deeside.

“This incident shows that someone with the same urgent need for care in a rural area might not get the same level of service as someone in an urban area which is very worrying.”

An ambulance service spokesman said patient confidentiality limits what can be said, but added:  “Managing the demand on the ambulance service can be very challenging and we prioritise our responses and our ambulance resources according to clinical need, ensuring that our sickest patients receive the most urgent response.

“We are continuing to invest in new ambulance staff, new ambulances and the latest equipment as we develop and grow our workforce at pace to respond to the demands made for our services.

“We are very sorry for this delay and we will be contacting the patient directly to apologise.”

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