A tearful family have told of their devastation after their loved one died from a heart attack after waiting seven hours for hospital treatment.
Josephine Smalley, 88, was at home when her son called an ambulance on December 30 at 11.45pm as she was ‘struggling to breathe’.
Just 26 hours later she passed away on New Year’s Day after enduring a five-hour wait in an ambulance and two hours on a trolley in a corridor at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth.
An investigation has been launched by the hospital which hit the headlines for the chaotic scenes there on New Year’s Eve – as more than 20 ambulances were forced to wait for up to five hours 26 minutes to hand over patients to the care of doctors.
Bosses declared an ‘internal incident’ – which is a higher status than an extremely serious ‘black alert’ – and blamed a spike in patients and staff shortages.
The number of patients admitted to hospital with the flu has trebled in a week and at least 16 hospital trusts have declared black alerts amid what has been described as ‘battlefield’ conditions.
Josephine Smalley’s family say they felt let down after she had to wait a total of seven hours for treatment after ‘struggling to breathe’
Portsmouth’s Queen Alexandra Hospital declared an ‘internal incident’ on Sunday – after more than 20 ambulances were forced to queue for up to five hours to hand over patients
Mrs Smalley’s son Christopher Smalley and his daughter Jessie pictured at his mother’s house
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
11.45pm – Mrs Smalley’s son calls ambulance
12.49am – Ambulance arrives
1.36am – Vehicle arrives at Queen Alexandra Hospital
Unknown time – while waiting in the ambulance Mrs Smalley may have had a stroke
6.08am – Moved into hospital but waiting on trolley
8am – Moved to a bed
New Year’s Eve early hours – the patient passes away
‘There was nothing to do for her anymore’
Mrs Smalley, from Southsea, Hampshire, who is known as Jess, took ill and her son Christopher, 55, called 999 at 11.45pm, which arrived at 12.49am and got to Queen Alexandra Hospital at 1.36am.
She was moved into the facility at 6.08am where she waited on a trolley between 6am and 8am before being moved to a bed.
After she was taken for scans, staff told her family that she had had a heart attack and a stroke.
Her granddaughter Jessie Hirst, 27, of Havant, said: ‘They came back and said there was nothing to do for her any more.
‘They didn’t know what was going on and they said they wouldn’t be able to resuscitate.
‘They said they were really sorry, she had a stroke first – possibly in the ambulance while waiting for five hours – then she suffered a heart attack, which they could give her aspirin for.
‘She then died in the early hours of New Year’s Day.’
The grandmother, who is known as Jess, pictured here in her younger years
She is believed to have had a stroke first – possibly in the ambulance while waiting for five hours – then she suffered a heart attack
New Year chaos at hospital
It emerged that sick people were told to drive themselves to Queen Alexandra Hospital A&E.
Paramedics should transfer patients from ambulances to the care of doctors within 15 minutes of arrival to free them up to attend other emergency calls.
But throughout Sunday there was an average of ten to 14 vehicles waiting to unload ill people – and at one point there was 24 ambulances.
Figures published yesterday reveal on the day Mrs Smalley was taken to hospital, 94 other people arrived by ambulance to the A&E department.
Of those, 13 waited between 30-60 minutes to be handed over to the hospital, and 45 waited more than an hour. One waiting five hours, 26 minutes.
And the Portsmouth hospital diverted patients away from A&E nine times between December 29-31.
May’s apology – we need action not words
Yesterday prime minister Theresa May apologised to patients being delayed and facing cancelled operations.
But Jessie said: ‘She needs to put her words into action and do something about it rather than just apologising.
‘She needs to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place.’
Jessie believes her grandmother should have been prioritised ahead of those less unwell.
She added: ‘It’s awful, we’re devastated. She should have been at the top of the list.’
Mark Ainsworth, operations director at South Central Ambulance Service, gave his ‘sincere condolences’ to the family.
He added: ‘Unfortunately at the time of receiving the emergency call from her address, there were over 60 patients waiting for an ambulance response in the local area and our ambulance crews were being delayed handing over patients at the Queen Alexandra Hospital.’
At its peak on New Year’s Eve, 24 ambulances were outside the Accident and Emergency department waiting for a bed for patients
Theresa Murphy, chief nurse at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said Mrs Smalley was seen within four minutes of arrival.
She said: ‘The Emergency Department was under significant pressure over the bank holiday weekend and regrettably this meant that some patients experienced delays,’ she said.
‘Mrs Smalley was seen by our clinical staff and assessed within four minutes of arriving at the Emergency Department.
‘Her condition was monitored but unfortunately she had to wait for some time before being treated.
‘We’re extremely sorry for the additional distress this will have caused.
‘However I would stress that our Emergency Department work closely with our colleagues in the ambulance service to ensure that all patients are cared for in the most clinically appropriate way.
‘Ensuring we provide the best quality of patient care is the highest priority of Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust and we will be carrying out a full investigation into Mrs Smalley’s death which her family will be fully involved in.’
CALLS FOR A ‘FUNDING SOLUTION’ AS THE WINTER FLU THROWS THE NHS INTO CRISIS
The NHS is bracing itself for a flu epidemic following a surge in cases at hospitals and GP surgeries.
The rocketing number of flu cases has been put down to a surge in two aggressive subtypes attacking the population simultaneously.
One includes the so-called ‘Aussie flu’, a strain of influenza A which wreaked havoc on hospitals in Australia during the country’s winter.
Hospitals here are already under pressure following a surge in A&E admissions after Christmas. Yesterday it emerged that:
- Bosses made the unprecedented decision to cancel 55,000 operations to cope with the crisis as the NHS begins to buckle
- Almost half a million patients called the NHS 111 helpline last week – its highest ever number
- 16,900 patients waited in ambulances for 30 minutes or more last week
- Theresa May apologised to thousands of patients whose operations will be cancelled to free up beds
- Health leaders said the pressures were ‘intolerable’ and called for a ‘funding solution’ for the NHS