THE way in which a seriously ill pensioner was kept in an ambulance outside hospital for eight hours was “unacceptable”, the heads of two major health bodies have agreed.

Jason Killens, chief executive of the Welsh Ambulance Services Trust (WAST), and Gary Doherty, his counterpart with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, were giving evidence at an inquest into the death of retired shopkeeper Peter Connelly, who died at Wrexham Maelor Hospital on February 20, 2018.

The 70-year-old, of Ffordd Meirion, Fairbourne, near Barmouth, arrived in an ambulance at the hospital at 2.15pm the previous day but with up to nine ambulances queuing outside the emergency department on what staff described as “a challenging night” he was not admitted until 10pm, by which time his condition had deteriorated.

He died the following afternoon of multi-organ failure due to acute pancreatitis caused by gallstones.

The inquest at Ruthin heard how he had been in excruciating pain and crying “Please help me” .

Professor Solomon Almond, who was called as an independent expert, said that even if Mr Connelly had been admitted to hospital immediately the outcome would probably have been the same.

But he commented: “If the delay had been 20-30 minutes then so be it, but for it to be any number of hours cannot be right. Eight or nine hours is too much.”

Both Mr Killens and Mr Doherty, along with operational staff from both organisations, told John Gittins, coroner for North Wales East and Central, that numerous steps had been taken to tackle the problem of ambulance handover times, including reducing the number of patients needing hospital care and improving triage systems, and the measures were proving effective.

The inquest heard how Mr Connelly’s family had asked whether he could be taken to another hospital instead but had been told that once the ambulance had entered the hospital grounds it could not be done.

But Mr Killens said talks were being held over diverting ambulances from hospitals where there were long queues.

Mr Connelly’s brother John said the family did not want others to have to go through the same harrowing experience.

“After 20 months what has c hanged?” he asked.

Mr Doherty said there were definite improvements and further measures were planned, adding: “It is less likely to happen.”

Expressing condolences with the family, he said: “It should not have happened.”

Recording a conclusion of natural causes, Mr Gittins said that while it was clear that the situation had improved and the latest figures were encouraging, he still had enough concern about staffing issues, patient flow and handovers to issue a Regulation 28 report to the Health Board about the risk if future deaths.

The report will not go to the Ambulance Trust.

Thanking Mr Connelly’s family for the manner in which they had conducted themselves throughout the hearing, the coroner said: “You have afforded this process the dignity which Peter was denied in the ambulance that night.”

After the hearing a spokesman for the Health Board said: “We offer our full and sincere apologies to Mr Connelly's family.

“The delay he experienced outside our emergency department was and remains unacceptable.

“Our performance on ambulance transfers has improved over the last 12 months, and will continue to work with our partners to make further progress and provide safer care.”