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Husband’s plea after wife’s death for improved ambulance service in Braemar

Pam Anderson died in an ambulance on the way to Aberdeen.
Pam Anderson died in an ambulance on the way to Aberdeen.

A grieving widower has called for better ambulance cover for his community after the single-man crew sent to help his wife could not take her to hospital.

Care home manager Pam Anderson suffered a heart attack early on September 24, and died on the way to hospital in Aberdeen.

But it has now emerged that the 74-year-old had to wait 40 minutes for a two-man crew from Tomintoul to take her – as the first ambulance to arrive only had one crew member.

Since Braemar’s own ambulance was withdrawn in 2007, the nearest vehicle has been based in Ballater, a 17-mile drive away.

Although the local paramedic responded to the call, he could not take Mrs Anderson to hospital on his own – meaning she and husband Douglas had to wait for another crew to make the 31-mile trip from Tomintoul.

Mrs Anderson’s family have now spoken out about their tragedy, in an effort to help a community campaign to improve the Scottish Ambulance Service’s coverage of Braemar, and help make sure those who need emergency help in the future get it faster.

“On the day, a two-man crew might have saved Pam, but we don’t know that for certain.

“But, for the next patient, it might.”

Husband Douglas Anderson

Mr Anderson described his wife as the “kindest person” and said she was well-liked around the community.

The father-of-three, who is due to meet ambulance bosses next week, said: “It was early in the morning, it all kicked off at about 6.30am.

“My wife said she needed the doctor, and he responded rapidly, he was here within 10 minutes of me ringing him.

“He did an electrocardiogram (ECG), thought it was a bit odd, and went back to the surgery to compare it against a previous ECG that had been done and didn’t like what he saw, and called the ambulance.

“The ambulance turned up, and by that time you just think well, they’re here, everything is going to be all right now… but Pam took a turn for the worse.

“But the ambulance paramedic was on his own, so he couldn’t transport Pam.

“Back-up was called, and that turned up around 30 to 40 minutes later.

“They didn’t hang about, I have to say. She was drafted into the ambulance, and arrested as soon as she got into the ambulance.

“Pam had got as far as Ballater, and arrested several times in transit, and that was it.”

Mr Anderson stressed he had “no complaints” about the hard work and professionalism of the ambulance crews, who “tried everything” to save his wife.

He added: “What Braemar needs is a double-crew response. You never know with this outlying district, and by the time an ambulance gets here to see a patient and that patient has taken a turn for a worse, if you’re single-crewed your options are limited, you can’t transport patients to the hospital.

“And being an hour and a bit from Aberdeen, the obvious thing would be for the ambulances here to have two men in them.

“We were promised that back in 2007 when they took the ambulance away, we were guaranteed a two-man response.

“On the day, a two-man crew might have saved Pam, but we don’t know that for certain.

“But, for the next patient, it might.”

The couple had been married for more than 30 years, and lived in Braemar for the past 12 years, with Mrs Anderson working at the Kindrochit Court care home.

Mr Anderson continued: “She was just the kindest person.

“She started off as relief manager, and that developed into full-time manager.

“She was supposed to work in the mornings, but it became 8am to 8pm. Even at night time if any of the residents had a problem or were ill, she’d just nip off to see such-and-such, and make sure they’re all right.

“Pam was well-liked, and the response we got on the day of the funeral was fantastic, for such a small community it was good to see 75 people lining the road.

“I’ve had a heart attack myself. I want to make sure in the sad event that I have another one, will there be a two-man crew? Will my children’s dad have the best opportunity to get to hospital?

“But it’s not just for me, it’s for everyone in the community.”

Calls for Scottish Government investigation

Local GP Donald Cruickshank, who helped Mrs Anderson, said: ”A single-man crew can’t transport a patient to hospital.

“We are an hour and a half from Aberdeen, if we have to wait for a double-crew that can be critical.

“We were given an assurance when our ambulance was taken away all those years ago that there wouldn’t be a single-man crew attending to emergency calls but there have been several instances where this has happened.”

Braemar Community Council has now written to the Scottish Ambulance Service seeking answers, and local councillor Geva Blackett has written to the health minister asking for an investigation.

Mrs Blackett said: “Mrs Anderson was a much-loved and well-respected member of the community and will be sorely missed.

“When the ambulance was removed from here 14 years ago we all knew that it would take at least two hours from call out to the patient arriving at Aberdeen but were assured by the Scottish Ambulance Service that a two-person crew would always be available.

“This is not the first time a wholly inadequate service has been provided to this community.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “We would like to express our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family following the tragic passing of Mrs Anderson.

“We are limited in what we can say about individual cases due to patient confidentiality but we have been in close contact with the family and have arranged a meeting with them to discuss the case in detail.

“The Braemar area is served by ambulance stations in Ballater, Tomintoul, Alford and Banchory.

“While these are the stations which are geographically the closest, the ambulance service will always dispatch the closest, most appropriate response.

“The service have a wide range of resources which can be deployed depending on the nature of the incident and the condition of the patient, such as ambulances, paramedic response units, air ambulances, advanced practitioners and community first responders.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said:

“Our thoughts and condolences go out to the family of Mrs Anderson at this distressing time.

“We are aware that the ambulance service has been looking into the specific detail around this incident and have arranged to meet with the family early next week to discuss their concerns.

“The service is carrying out a national review of demand and capacity which will help to ensure they are working as efficiently as possible and have resources in place to meet both current and projected future demand.

“We are committed to supporting this work and last week we announced up to £11 million in additional funding for the Service which will see 148 new staff and 24 new vehicles put in place throughout the country and the reduction of requirement for on-call working in some of our more rural communities.”