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Grandfather, 77, died after waiting almost 32 hours for an ambulance because paramedics had begun three days of strikes, inquest hears

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A grandfather died after waiting almost 32 hours for an ambulance because paramedics were on strike, an inquest heard today.

William Guy, 77, broke his hip after falling in the bathroom of his care home on the isle of Anglesey, North Wales, just before 2.15pm on February 20, last year.

On that day paramedics from the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust (WAST) had begun three days of strikes, with bosses warning patients the industrial action would be ‘extremely challenging and have a significant impact on (their) ability to respond to 999 calls.’

Although staff at the care home dialled 999 immediately, it was almost 32 hours later – at 10.10pm the following evening – when an ambulance finally arrived to take Mr Guy, a retired car valeter who once worked on the Snowdon mountain railway, to hospital.

But by then he had developed pneumonia and he died at Gwynedd Hospital, in Bangor, the following day.

William Guy, 77, (pictured) broke his hip after falling in the bathroom of his care home on the isle of Anglesey, North Wales, just before 2.15pm on February 20, last year

William Guy, 77, (pictured) broke his hip after falling in the bathroom of his care home on the isle of Anglesey, North Wales, just before 2.15pm on February 20, last year

Today a coroner concluded WAST failed to provide timely treatment which ‘may have optimised prospects of a full recovery.’

Mr Guy’s daughter, Donna, 46, said her father was ‘let down by the whole system,’ adding: ‘If the ambulance had turned up on time, we wouldn’t be in this situation. I don’t know if he would have survived a hip operation (but) he wasn’t given the chance. He was only 77, he had years (left). Something has got to change.’

The inquest, in Caernarfon, North Wales, heard that it was the second time Mr Guy had been forced to wait more than a day for an ambulance in three months. In December he also suffered a fall at home and waited 25 hours to be transported to hospital, even though at that time there was no industrial action taking place and it was a ‘normal’ day for the NHS.

Zoe Hughes, manager of the Brwynog Residential Home said Mr Guy, who lived with his wife, in Llangefni, was admitted for respite care in January last year.

On the afternoon of February 20, she said staff heard a loud bang and found Mr Guy on the bathroom floor.

‘He said he had lost his balance getting off the toilet,’ she recalled in a statement. ‘There appeared to be no injuries.’

But soon afterwards the pensioner started to complain of pain in his hip and chest and, at 2.12pm, staff made a 999 call for an ambulance.

Operators graded the call correctly, the inquest heard, as ‘amber 2’ – meaning the injury is ‘serious but not immediately life-threatening’ – but warned the home it would be at least eight hours before an ambulance would be available.

Mr Guy was assisted onto a bed, using a hoist, and six hours later, at 8.14pm, staff rang again to check on the ambulance’s progress.

Still no vehicle was available and overnight Mr Guy’s pain worsened, prompting staff to call 999 again.

This time the call handler apologised and put Mr Guy down as a ‘priority.’ But they still couldn’t give staff any idea when help would arrive, so, in the mean time, a local GP was contacted to prescribe him some painkillers.

Gill Pleming, an emergency services manager with WAST, said an emergency ambulance from Colwyn Bay was finally allocated at 9.33pm. It arrived at the home around 10.10pm, with Mr Guy reaching hospital just after midnight.

Although the inquest heard that the call at 8.14pm on February 20 was downgraded to a less serious ‘green 2’ call, WAST would still have treated him as an ‘amber 2’ patient and this would have had no influence on the wait time, Ms Pleming insisted.

Paramedic Meirion Owen told the hearing that when he arrived at the home Mr Guy was ‘complaining of severe pain down his left leg.’

His pain score had been ‘ten out of ten,’ Mr Owen said.

Consultant physician Dr Alan Bates, from Gwynedd Hospital, suggested the excessive wait for an ambulance and ‘lack of movement’ would have increased Mr Guy’s ‘risk of chest infection.’

‘One has to look at the whole picture,’ he said. ‘A fracture of that kind can lead to large amounts of blood loss. Acute blood loss in somebody already frail.’

Sonia Thompson, assistant director of operations for WAST, said they had planned ‘as much as practicably possible’ to minimise the risk to patients on strike days.

On that day paramedics from the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust (WAST) had begun three days of strikes (File image)

She said negotiations had taken place with the trade unions ‘in relation to harm’ but they opted only to attend immediately life-threatening (red) calls and some calls deemed critical, she said.

There was no legal requirement for Unite or GMB members to relax their industrial action (in the face of demand), Ms Thompson added.

Richard Munn, of Unite, told the inquest: ‘Our concern throughout was if we had derogated more widely and included ‘amber 1′ (life-threatening calls) as the Trust had asked us, we would have found far more of our members wouldn’t have listened to us. We can’t force people to take derogations.’

Pointing out Mr Guy’s 25-hour wait on a non-strike day, Mr Munn added: ‘The trade dispute was about pay. However, the background wasn’t just pay, it was about an NHS that people were finding increasingly stretched to breaking point.’

Delivering a narrative conclusion, Kate Robertson, senior coroner for North West Wales, said she was considering issuing a prevention of future deaths notice to WAST, saying long waits for ambulances were detrimental for elderly patients.

She added: ‘I am very aware of the fact ambulance delays, irrespective of any industrial action, remain an ongoing issue.’

However, she said she wanted more information from Unite and WAST before she decided whether the notice was necessary.

The NHS in Wales is run by the devolved Labour government. It has been repeatedly criticised for the state of the service. In January Health Minister Eluned Morgan warned that three of the country’s hospital boards in South Wales were facing ‘interventions’ because financial and planning ‘challenges’ were impacting performance. Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, the main hospital board in North Wales, is also back in special measures after a two-year hiatus because of performance issues.

Earlier this week junior doctors at Welsh hospitals also started the latest round of industrial action, with a 96-hour, or four-day walk-out.



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