A 79-year-old woman who fell and broke her hip would have died, her family claims, had they not taken matters into their own hands.
Pamela Rolfe’s family claim they were forced to strap her to a grit bin lid and drive her to A&E in a van after being told an ambulance could take eight hours to reach her.
Speaking to NorthWalesLive, Dawn Hamilton, Ms Rolfe’s daughter, claims she was told no ambulances were available because her mum’s injuries were “not life-threatening”. Dawn said she received a phone call to say her mum had fallen whilst walking her dog near Stryt Las pond in Johnstown, Wrexham, on Thursday, December 29.
An hour after the initial 999 call, Dawn called the ambulance service to check how long they would be. “I phoned the ambulance service to check and the woman took all the details, but then she said ‘I’m sorry, I’ve got no ambulance for your mum because she’s not classed as an emergency, you’ll have to get her to hospital yourself’,” she said.
Dawn says she was shaken by horror stories of people dying while waiting for ambulances and felt she had no choice but to take matters into her own hands. “Luckily my partner had hired a van so I asked him to come, and one of the neighbours ripped off the lid from the grit bin and we used that to stabilise my mum.”
The family then drove to A&E at Wrexham Maelor Hospital where they were met with “horrendous” queues of people waiting for A&E. Thankfully, they were spotted by a paramedic and Mrs Rolfe was taken to triage. She was admitted to a ward at 7pm that evening, eight hours after the fall. She underwent surgery on her hip the next day and remains in hospital.
Despite the ordeal, Dawn says her mum was one of the lucky ones. “If my mum had been left, she would have died, definitely. If she’d have gone in any other way, rather than in the van, heaven knows what would’ve happened, that was the lifesaver for her.
“People are dying on the streets waiting for ambulances. I said to my mum that she doesn’t realise how lucky she was that she didn’t go in the ambulance. It’s a real eye-opener because she would’ve been left there for hours.”
Dawn praised the “fantastic” hospital and ambulance staff but says was “absolutely shocked and devastated” by the queues at A&E and the emergency services’ response.
She said: “We were told ‘she’s not a priority,’ but what is a priority? She’s 80 next month, she was outside in the rain and the wind, and I dread to think what could have happened. People were queuing outside A&E and I just wanted to cry when I saw it, it was absolutely horrendous.”
The Welsh Ambulance Service has apologised to the family for the distress caused by this incident, and acknowledged that they are not unique in their experience. Stephen Sheldon, Service Manager in North Wales for the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “We are deeply sorry to hear about Mrs Rolfe’s experience, and know how distressing it will have been for her and those around her as they waited for our help.
“Unfortunately, her experience is not unique, and while that doesn’t lessen the distress for Mrs Rolfe, it is symptomatic of the pressures that all elements of the health and care service in Wales – and across the UK – are facing. It is not now uncommon for in excess of 30 per cent of our available crews to be tied up at hospitals waiting to hand over the care of patients. This means they are unable to get to patients in the community like Mrs Rolfe, resulting in very long waits for us to arrive.”
Mr Sheldon said there is a “vicious circle” of patients being stuck in hospitals who can’t be discharged. He said there are now 1,700 patients in hospitals across Wales who are ready to be discharged, but cannot go home as the appropriate care and support is not available for them in the community.
He continued: “This is not the level of service we want to provide and we are working hard to improve things as a matter of urgency. We wish Mrs Rolfe all the very best for a speedy recovery, and invite her or her family to contact our Putting Things Right team to afford us the opportunity to listen to their experience in more detail and investigate appropriately.”
In response to the reports of patients queuing out of the door at A&E, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health board echoed concerns about the pressures on healthcare services. Dr Nick Lyons, Interim Deputy CEO and Medical Director at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said: “I’m pleased this patient was admitted quickly and I wish her well in her recovery.
“We are seeing a very high volume of patients being admitted to our hospitals with flu and COVID-19, which currently represents 17% of patients, as well as an increase in the most seriously injured or unwell patients requiring emergency care.
“There remain challenges around discharging patients from hospital to suitable accommodation or care services and patients who are medically fit for discharge represent 15% of our patient population. This does impact flow through the entire hospital system and our ability to bring patients into and through the Emergency Department in a timely manner. We continue to work with our health and social care partners to improve this.”
Members of the public with non-life-threatening conditions and who need medical help are advised to visit the NHS 111 website in the first instance to be advised about accessing the most appropriate service.