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The cold reality of our NHS - Grandmother's three hour wait for ambulance after serious leg breaks

PUBLISHED: 23:54 11 February 2018 | UPDATED: 23:58 11 February 2018

Debbie Richards for almost three hours for an ambulance after falling and breaking her leg in two places and her ankle in Belle Vue Road, Ipswich. Picture: ASHLEY PICKERING

Debbie Richards for almost three hours for an ambulance after falling and breaking her leg in two places and her ankle in Belle Vue Road, Ipswich. Picture: ASHLEY PICKERING

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Grandmother Debbie Richards was walking her dog Poppy in Ipswich on Friday morning when she slipped and fell. She screamed in agony. She had suffered a serious leg break.

62 year old Debbie Richards who slipped at the bottom of Belle Vue Road in Ipswich and suffered a suspected broken ankle, had to wait 3 hours out in the cold before an ambulance arrived to take her to hospital62 year old Debbie Richards who slipped at the bottom of Belle Vue Road in Ipswich and suffered a suspected broken ankle, had to wait 3 hours out in the cold before an ambulance arrived to take her to hospital

Stranded on the cold and wet pavement in Belle Vue Road, bystanders rushed over, including a gas engineer and an off-duty police officer. They called 999 and were told not to move her or splint her leg until an ambulance arrived. This was at 10.17am.

“It was freezing cold and it was raining,” said Mrs Richards, 62, of Belle Vue Road. “That cold wind cuts right through you.”

More neighbours gathered to help. They brought blankets, clothes, an umbrella, and a hot water bottle. She wasn’t allowed a cup of tea or painkillers until clinical clearance after two hours.

After almost three hours of waiting, just as she was being lifted into a car to be driven to hospital after “giving up”, an ambulance arrived at 1.10pm.

Ambulances parked outside the emergency department at Ipswich Hospital.  Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARYAmbulances parked outside the emergency department at Ipswich Hospital. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

“I asked them why it took so long and they said A&E is full,” Mrs Richards said. “They couldn’t load people off and go back out. It wasn’t that there weren’t enough ambulances. The bottleneck was at A&E. They told me the volume is just increasing and increasing, and they can’t cope with it.”

X-rays revealed two leg breaks – a complex, twisted fractured tibia and a fractured fibula – and a broken ankle bone. She was due to remain in hospital this weekend and have a cast fitted today.

Her experience is a stark insight into the pressures facing the NHS: rising demand from an ageing population, a historic funding squeeze, and staff shortages have led to overcrowded A&E wards, inundated GP practices, and creaking community services.

Mrs Richards, a call centre worker, said: “It shouldn’t have been a three-hour wait, sitting on the cold pavement in winter. I wasn’t dying but it was extremely painful and humiliating, being sat there. I wasn’t feeling angry, just hopeless. There should be more resources so more ambulances could keep going out if there are blockages at A&E, but it wasn’t their fault. I was very pleased with them. They said if there’s a cardiac arrest, we have to go to that, which is fair enough. They said you can just suddenly get a peak of people needing A&E.

“I think the NHS is under-funded. I’m on minimum wage but would pay more tax. We discussed this on the pavement and I think people would pay more to get the NHS and social care sorted out.”

Ambulances must attend at least 90% of ‘Category 3’ incidents within two hours of the initial 999 call. These are “urgent problems” which appear to include serious leg breaks and abdominal pain.

An East of England Ambulance Service Trust spokesman said: “We are pleased to hear that Debbie is recovering.

“She fell in Belle Vue Road, Ipswich (on Friday) at 10.17am. An ambulance arrived at 13.10pm and took the patient to Ipswich Hospital for further treatment.

“At the time we were receiving a high number of calls in the area, and we always prioritise life threatening emergencies which means our clinical teams can be with patients for some considerable time, and many need hospital conveyance.

“We would encourage the patient to get in touch so we can look into this case further if she wishes to, or indeed would like to thank our teams who helped her.”

Ipswich Hospital treated 90% (the national target) of patients within four hours of arrival at A&E in January.

A spokesman said: “We do our very best to make sure our ambulance colleagues get back on the road as soon as possible. We had a couple of exceptionally busy days this week. Friday was particularly busy, with a lot of emergency patients at the same time.”

The latest example of our struggling NHS comes after MPs were told ambulance delays could have caused up to 81 deaths in the first three weeks of 2018 in the region.

The region’s ambulance service has issued a seven-point plan to ease the crisis, including: more vehicles and staff on call until Easter, predicting periods of high demands, urging hospitals to speed up A&E transfers.

Last night, Ipswich MP Sandy Martin said: “Nobody should be left waiting outside in the cold with a broken leg for three hours. Nobody. It is completely nonsensical. Why did they not pick up this woman? It’s ridiculous.

“They haven’t got the system right, partly because they haven’t got enough finances, and the NHS needs more resources, but I think they need to get their triage system right. They need to ensure this doesn’t happen again. They need to prioritise properly, otherwise we are going to have more deaths. We are going to have people dying of hyperthermia outside.”

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