News, Culture & Society

Ambulance delays led to 40 dying or suffering harm

At least 40 patients died or were seriously harmed because of ambulance delays, a whistleblower has revealed amid the NHS’s worst ever winter.

A 16-hour wait for an emergency vehicle led to one person in Lowestoft ‘freezing to death’, the anonymous source revealed.

The senior figure at the East of England Ambulance Service (EoEAS) warned the figure was likely to be the tip of the iceberg as the investigation deepens. 

One was Marie Norris, 81, who died at her home in Clacton, Essex, on January 2 after waiting almost four hours for an ambulance.

She had dialled 999 complaining of chest pains but by the time the ambulance crew arrived she was already dead.

A dossier of incidents that struck the scandal-hit ambulance service between mid-December and early January were leaked to HSJ. 

A 16-hour wait for an emergency vehicle led to one person in Lowestoft ‘freezing to death’, the anonymous source revealed (stock)


Marie Norris died after waiting four hours for an ambulance in December

Marie Norris died after waiting four hours for an ambulance in December

The family of an 81-year-old grandmother who died at home after waiting more than four hours for paramedics revealed they were ‘heartbroken’.

By the time an ambulance crew eventually reached Marie Norris on December 26 she had stopped breathing.

Beside her body, ‘devastated’ medics found her bags packed, ready to go to hospital, the Mail on Sunday reported.

Mother-of-three Mrs Norris, who lived less than a mile from the ambulance station in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, dialled 999 shortly before 8pm with chest pains.

The East of England Ambulance Service said one of its clinicians made a ‘welfare call’ to the pensioner at 9.47pm, though her family dispute this. 

Ambulance chiefs said they couldn’t send a vehicle sooner because of ‘extremely high’ demand and delays at A&E units. 

The ambulance crew eventually arrived at 11.46pm but had to wait for firefighters to break down the door of her bungalow. They finally went in at 12.21am. 

The shocking incidents included a patient in Norwich who died following a seven-hour wait for an ambulance after a cardiac arrest. Such incidents are branched under category one calls and should be responded to within eight minutes.

Another patient in Hertfordshire suffered cardiac arrest after being forced to wait three quarters of an hour – despite complaining of shortness of breath.

One elderly patient developed pressure sores during their 13-hour long wait for an ambulance in Essex following a fall.

And a sepsis patient was forced to wait four hours for an ambulance in Ipswich due to a lack of vehicles.

The dossier comes from an internal review at the trust, described as a ‘rigorous analysis’ by bosses at EoEAS.

Of the 40 damning incidents currently flagged by the whistleblower, 19 patients died following their wait for an ambulance. 

Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, described it as an 'exceptionally serious issue' in the House of Commons yesterday

Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, described it as an ‘exceptionally serious issue’ in the House of Commons yesterday

But the senior figure insisted the final toll of patients harmed or killed by having to wait for an emergency vehicle could be around 80.

They also accused fellow senior board figures of being on holiday during the crisis period. 

The investigation is expected to finish in the next few weeks. EoEAS run services across Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, Essex.

Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, described it as an ‘exceptionally serious issue’ in the House of Commons yesterday.

He revealed senior managers said on December 19 they wanted to move into the fourth stage of resource escalation action plan, which involves seeking outside help.

However, because neighbouring ambulance services were also overstretched, the assistance would probably have came from the military, The Guardian reports.

Mr Lewis said no decision was taken until December 31, meaning there were 12 days when bosses knew there was too much pressure but failed to act.

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, has also seen the dossier compiled by the whistleblower that was cited by Mr Lewis.

The former health minister said the claims raised ‘fundamental questions about the senior management’.


In response to the whistleblower’s claims, published in the HSJ, the trust said the following:

‘The trust had plans in place, however experienced extreme levels of demand over the new year period in particular. The trust was unable to respond to a very small number of the 50,000 calls we handled over a 15 day period as quickly as we would like. The trust is undertaking a rigorous analysis of that small proportion of calls. Where any suspected cases of potential harm are identified then the trust will exercise its duty of candour to notify patients or their families. 

‘It is best practice to always review the effectiveness of any plans and the trust will be doing that. Depending on any preliminary insight, the trust will invite an independent review of our decision making process. The trust has also requested a system-wide review of these periods of high demand and lost capacity.

‘The trust absolutely refutes claims that there were no senior managers in over the Christmas period. In line with all ambulance trusts, this trust operates a gold command system, which consists a 24/7 on-call rota of the most senior operational managers who are highly experienced and well trained. To ensure complete resilience, two gold commanders are available at all times in case a substitute is required. The gold commanders are supported by an on-call team of managers and, during busy periods, are further supplemented with a tactical command team. While members of the executive team were working across the festive period to provide board level support, gold commanders are the most senior operational manager in charge of and responsible for managing daily service delivery.

‘The trust is on the public record stating that it has a gap between funded capacity and demand. It is good financial planning to ensure that the trust is in a position to hire any additional resources that may become available across the months of January, February and March. The trust is well placed to buy such resources where available.

‘Demand has now lessened and while our festive plan has come to an end, our winter plan remains in force and ready to respond to the expected peak in the flu driven demand. We continue to urge everyone who has not yet done so, especially those who are in the risk groups, to have a flu vaccine as early as possible.’