Northern Ireland news

Ambulance chief apologises to family of pensioner who died while waiting nine hours

An investigation has been ordered after a pensioner died while waiting for an ambulance to bring her to hospital
Seanín Graham

AN investigation has been ordered after a pensioner due to be taken to hospital within four hours waited more than nine hours for an ambulance and died in her care home.

The elderly woman died last Monday evening while waiting for an ambulance at Hollygate Lodge care home in Carryduff.

Shane Devlin, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), apologised to the family and said they "have a right to expect answers to any questions they may have".

A spokesman confirmed that a call was received from a GP shortly after 1.40pm on February 12, requesting transport for the pensioner to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

The reason for the call-out was not revealed but NIAS said it was agreed to pick up the patient within four hours.

Demand from higher priority cases meant an ambulance was not available in this time and when a vehicle was allocated before 8.30pm, it was “stood down” en route to attend another call.

Two further telephone calls were made to the ambulance service requesting updates.

A vehicle used to transport patients to hospital but not staffed by paramedics eventually reached the residential home shortly before 11pm, and the call was "upgraded to a Category A call and an A&E crew also attended the scene".

"Regrettably the patient died at the scene," the spokesman said.

Mr Devlin yesterday expressed sorrow at the death of the patient.

"As chief executive of NIAS, I regret the fact that we were unable to respond to this patients needs within the timeframe agreed with the GP and even longer," he said.

"I would like, on behalf of the service, to apologise to the relatives of the patient who have a right to expect answers to any questions they may have in relation to how this call was handled and we would be happy to facilitate this.

"In the meantime the incident has been reported as a Serious Adverse Incident and will be investigated accordingly."

News of the pensioner's death comes after it emerged the ambulance service failed to respond to almost half of life-threatening calls within its eight-minute target last month, with bosses admitting the performance "suffered badly".

Figures obtained by The Irish News show the key target for more than 5,600 of the most serious cases was severely breached.

Paramedics have spoken of "one of the worst winters on record", with overcrowded A&E departments and trolley waits severely impacting on "patient handover" since mid-December.

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Northern Ireland news