Relatives deserve answers from service

TOUGH questions were today being asked of regional ambulance chiefs over exactly why it took 29 minutes for an emergency vehicle to reach a dying man.

Richard Cornwell

TOUGH questions were today being asked of regional ambulance chiefs over exactly why it took 29 minutes for an emergency vehicle to reach a dying man.

The family of heart attack victim Alfred Clark, and two MPs, have expressed their disgust and called for an inquiry into the incident.

It took 17 minutes for a rapid response vehicle driven by a paramedic to reach Felixstowe seafront, and a further 12 minutes after that before an ambulance crew arrived.

A police officer first to the incident gave Mr Clark CPR, the paramedic stabilised his condition and he was then resuscitated in the back of the ambulance on the way to casualty. He later died at Ipswich Hospital.

The East of England Ambulance Service said at the time of the incident, 11 of the 12 ambulance services crews on duty were already dealing with 999 calls in the county - and the nearest one free was at Hintlesham.

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The Evening Star has today tabled ten questions to the service to try to find out more about what went wrong.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said: “This is a very serious matter and I am very concerned.

“I am used to having to say to people in my rural constituency that if you live in a very distant place you might have to wait a little longer for an ambulance than you might otherwise expect.

“But I have never had a situation before like this in a town the size of Felixstowe and quite frankly I am appalled at the service which has been provided.

“I am also concerned because Felixstowe has a higher proportion of older people than other towns and many of them have moved to the urban area from the countryside, recognising they could be at risk and wanting to be closer to services.

“They are now worried when they haven't been worried before.

“So far we have had no real explanation of how this happened and that cannot be acceptable.

“An urban area like Felixstowe needs to have ambulances arriving in line with national response times.”

He also voiced concern that if a major incident happened at the Port of Felixstowe whether enough additional emergency aid would be available fast enough.

MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell, said the wait for emergency treatment was “too long” and called for an urgent inquiry.

“Mr Clark's family are going to want to know exactly what happened and it is right this is properly investigated,” he said.

“It is too long to have to wait - if people are in a life-threatening situation they need to know that an ambulance will come quickly.

“I believe there is a problem with getting ambulances to coastal towns in Essex and Suffolk quickly enough.”

AMBULANCE chiefs today said they hoped to give Felixstowe its own rapid response vehicle to try to get paramedics to the town faster in an emergency.

Rob Lawrence, chief operating officer for Suffolk for the service, said: “At the time of this call on Sunday morning, we had 12 ambulance resources on shift for the area - the maximum available for the time of day.

“Eleven of them were already engaged on emergency calls, and the nearest response vehicle was sent from Ipswich.

“We would like to praise the efforts of the police officer who provided CPR at the scene and of the paramedics who successfully resuscitated the patient on route to hospital to give him the best possible chance of survival.

“An independent report has been commissioned to determine the level of cover required to meet the government's challenging new target - which says that the clock must start as soon as the call is connected to our control room, not once we know the patient's location and condition.

“As a result, we are planning to introduce a rapid response vehicle to Felixstowe - if funding can be secured - in addition to the current 24-hour ambulance.

“Everyone at the East of England Ambulance Service strives to reach every single call as quickly as we can, within the constraints of the resources available to us.”

The service has a duty to reach 75 per cent of potentially life-threatening calls within eight minutes, a government-set target.

Mr Lawrence added: “Sadly, this means that 25 per cent of such calls - or about 5,000 a year in Suffolk - cannot be reached within this time period.

“Since September 2007, our average response to potentially life-threatening calls has improved by more than a minute because of extra investment, improved efficiency in our control centres and the magnificent efforts of our crews.

“This is despite yet another four pc increase in the 999 call volume this year, mostly to more minor problems.”

- Should ambulance cover be increased? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Questions for East of England Ambulance Service:

- Rob Lawrence, chief operating officer for Suffolk, says there were 12 ambulances operating on Sunday September 28 and when the 999 call came from Felixstowe, 11 were already on emergency calls. Please give us exact details of where the others were at the time of the Felixstowe call - and what incidents/injuries they were dealing with.

- Do control room staff have the ability to redirect an ambulance crew if a situation is more serious than the one they are currently dealing with and they are closer?

- In the Felixstowe incident, where was the car driver Alfred Clark being treated? Was he being given CPR by the police officer in his car or had the officer moved him out of the vehicle and placed him on the pavement?

- What actions did the RRV paramedic take when she arrived? Where did she treat the patient?

- The Ambulance Service say Alfred Clark was resuscitated on route to hospital by the ambulance crew to give him the best possible chance of survival. Had the crew arrived within eight minutes, or at least much sooner than the 29 minutes which was achieved, would not the patient have been resuscitated sooner in better conditions (inside a fully-equipped ambulance) and possibly lived?

- Why were first responders from Felixstowe not alerted?

- Did you know that the Port of Felixstowe vehicle was not available for work outside the port that morning?

- What time did you call Port of Felixstowe crew and what was the response?

- Should large population centres like Felixstowe not have an ambulance in the town 24 hours a day to be sure of reaching incidents in the fastest response time?

- When will a decision be made on whether the finance can be made available for Felixstowe to have its own rapid response vehicle?

TIMELINE: Getting an ambulance to Felixstowe

- 9.44am - Emergency services called and ambulance requested

- 9.46am - Police officer on scene to give CPR to Alfred Clark

- 10.01am - Rapid response vehicle from East of England Ambulance Service arrives to take over

- 10.13am - Ambulance arrives to take Mr Clark to Ipswich Hospital, resuscitating him en route

- 11am - Just after 11am Mr Clark is declared dead.

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