A north-east woman has slammed the Scottish Ambulance Service after she was left waiting 20 hours to be taken to hospital – only to learn she had potentially life-threatening sepsis.
Ann-Marie Smart, who lives in Fetteresso near Stonehaven, said her story demonstrates the need for more ambulances to be made available for patients in need, particularly north of the Central Belt.
It comes after a number of other people in the Highlands and north-east have spoken about their own experiences of stressful waits for paramedic crews to show up.
Miss Smart, who has five auto-immune diseases including psoriatic arthritis, began feeling unwell during the last week of July, and eventually reached the point of contacting her GP on Thursday, July 29.
She was told to try and deal with the pain through the weekend, which she did, but her condition had worsened by the Monday morning to the extent that her personal assistant Danielle Fitzgerald called the GP back, and he then dialled the emergency number.
Miss Smart said: “It was around 1pm he phoned the ambulance, and I had a terrible night.
“I couldn’t even sleep, because the ambulance service from Glasgow kept sending me an automated message every couple of hours apologising for the delay, which really didn’t help.”
The GP’s call had been for a two-hour non-emergency transfer, but at 8.45am the following day, the ambulance had still not arrived and Miss Smart called her local surgery to let them know.
She said: “And just then, in walks the parademics. It basically took 20 hours, virtually, which is just absolutely pathetic.”
Similarly to businessman Iain Anderson’s experience following a 13-hour wait for an ambulance earlier this month, Miss Smart said the paramedics who arrived were very helpful despite the delay, and she described them as “really, really apologetic”.
Shock at potentially ‘fatal’ diagnoses
However, her shock at the long wait was compounded by the diagnosis she received upon her arrival at the hospital on Tuesday.
She said: “When I went into hospital, they did a lot of tests and it turned out I’d actually had sepsis, which is a condition that needs immediate medical attention because it can be fatal.
“I’d had sepsis, pleurisy and pneumonia, so I wasn’t very well at all. The doctor in the hospital said I’d been incredibly lucky.”
She added: “Once I’d come to and was rational about it, my first thought then was that at any point in that 20 hours I could have died – or equally, I could have died over the weekend.”
On the advice of the paramedics and hospital staff, she submitted a formal complaint to the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), and received a response on Monday morning saying the service was arranging to have the issue investigated.
The SAS has also said it will contact her directly to apologise for the incident.
Problems across region
As well as Mr Anderson and Miss Smart, two other families in the north have spoken out after stressful ambulance experiences in the past month.
In mid-July, Grace Heafey of Ardrishaig in Argyll had to ask a neighbour to take her husband Michael to hospital following a massive heart attack, as the 999 call handler told her no ambulance was available.
And earlier this month, Paula Cameron – who lives in the same Argyll town – had to bundle her 10-year-old son Rhys into the back of her car after he broke his arm falling from his bike.
Miss Smart said: “People up here are not getting the service that they should get quickly enough – the service itself is good when you get it, but there is no excuse at all that’s acceptable for anyone to wait that long.”
She is still feeling the effects of the pneumonia, and often feels breathless, but has otherwise largely recovered from the illness that resulted in her trip to hospital.
Ambulance service apologises for delay
A spokesman for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “We would like to apologise for the delay in responding to this patient which came during a period of exceptionally high and sustained demand, and external pressures on our resources.
“Our staff are working tremendously hard during this challenging time to attend to patients as quickly as possible but like all other health boards, we are experiencing increased demand for our services.
“While we are limited in what we can say due to patient confidentiality, we can confirm we received a two hour non-emergency request for transfer on August 2.
“All our calls are prioritised to ensure the most seriously ill patients are given the highest priority and we maintained regular contact with the patient through our clinical advisors until an ambulance arrived.
“We will be reviewing this case thoroughly and will contact the patient directly to apologise.
“We are currently recruiting additional staff for the area and across the country and working with partners to reduce external pressures.”