THE widow of Fred Pring, who died of heart failure while waiting 48 minutes for an ambulance, said she hopes “it never happens to anyone else”.
Joyce Pring, 63, of Mynydd Isa, near Mold, said after a three-day inquest at Ruthin: “I didn’t want them to have sent condolences – but an ambulance.”
She added: “I’ve learned a lot – that there’s a situation where a call category can rise from red two to red one, but a person has to be dead before they do it. It’s quite shocking.”
Coroner John Gittins recorded a narrative conclusion, calling for urgent improvements to be made.
He said Mr Pring, 74, began to experience chest pains on the evening of March 20 last year. At 1.08am the following day Mrs Pring called 999 and requested help for her husband by an ambulance attending.
“Due to a combination of delays in handing over patients at hospitals and ambulance crews being on rest breaks there were no resources available to allocate to this call, nor to two further calls made by Mrs Pring at 1.19am and 1.38am,” said Mr Gittins.
“Following a fourth call at 1.51am, in which Mrs Pring informed the call handler that her husband had died a few minutes earlier, three ambulances reached the property – the first arriving 48 minutes after the initial call.”
It was confirmed he was dead.
Mr Gittins said it could not be “established with certainty” if Mr Pring would have survived if the ambulance had arrived sooner. But he said it was “probable” if it had arrived within eight minutes he would have lived long enough to be transported to hospital for further medical treatment.
He said the loss of even a single life to a potential delay was unacceptable and he was writing to the Welsh Ambulance Trust and Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board to tell them about his concerns that – unless action was taken – risks of deaths would continue.
He needs replies within 56 days.
The coroner wants the ambulance trust to say why the categorisation and prioritising of resources did not “appear to take into account the issue of delay and the potential catastrophic impact of delay” on the patient and those seeking to care for them without medical assistance.
Mr Gittins raised the policy of rest and mandatory breaks, suggesting a greater degree of sharing of facilities between health board and ambulance staff to minimise, where possible, “the need to return to base”.
The coroner is telling both bodies of his concern the handover of patients at accident and emergency “far too often results in wholly unacceptable delays with patients being kept waiting for long periods in ambulances”, with ambulance resources unavailable for allocation to other calls.
He added: “Improvements must be made so as to reduce the risk of future deaths.”
Mr Gittins is writing to Prof Matt Makin, health board medical director and Elwyn Price-Morris, Welsh Ambulance Service chief executive, to remind them of assurances given at the inquest.
He praised Mrs Pring for her dignity. Afterwards she thanked him for a thorough investigation.
She added: “While I have had answers to some of my concerns, I am still at a loss as to what other answers I could have given to the questions put to me by the 999 operators in order to have my husband’s situation upgraded from a red two to a red one.
“It is a lasting sadness it was only after he had died that he was elevated to the highest response category.
“I also feel particularly let down. I was led to believe help was on its way when it so obviously wasn’t.
“I sincerely hope my husband’s death will lead to improvements in the way the Welsh Ambulance Trust and the hospitals manage their services, especially in respect of the handovers of patients to A&E departments.”
In a statement Prof Makin and Mr Price-Morris said: “It is with deep regret on this occasion there was no ambulance available to send to Mr Pring in a timely manner.”
They said they were working hard to reduce delays and strengthen training for on-call managers and ensure decision-making procedures were clear to staff.
“The urgent healthcare system across Wales is facing unparalleled pressure, with high demands on both the ambulance service and hospital emergency departments. We are taking a range of actions to ensure our busy ambulances and emergency departments are available to those who need them most urgently.”
Mr Pring died from heart disease and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.