Ambulance service warning after tragedy

A DELAY of nearly 30 minutes for an ambulance to reach the victim of a fatal asthma attack was "not surprising" as the 999 system is severely overstretched, a retired emergency worker has warned.

By Jonathan Barnes

A DELAY of nearly 30 minutes for an ambulance to reach the victim of a fatal asthma attack was "not surprising" as the 999 system is severely overstretched, a retired emergency worker has warned.

John Hollywood, who worked as an ambulance technician for nearly 40 years, spoke out after Ipswich man David Halley-Frame, 25, was left waiting for help after suffering a massive asthma attack because of a lack of ambulances.

Earlier this year, Mr Hollywood, 65, warned of a desperate lack of resources in the region's ambulance service and said inadequate levels of cover were being stretched to breaking point.


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"I was very sad to read about this case but it did not surprise me at all," said Mr Hollywood, who retired from the region's ambulance service in March.

"This has confirmed what I already knew. I just feel really sorry for this man's family - if aid had got there quickly maybe he could have survived."

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Mr Halley-Frame, of King's Way, Ipswich, suffered the fatal attack during a night out in the town in the early hours of Saturday.

But because six ambulances were tied up on other 999 calls in the area and a further vehicle was sitting idle because of staff holidays, an ambulance from Bury St Edmunds was sent to the incident.

It took 28 minutes to arrive and Mr Halley-Frame, a healthcare assistant, died in Ipswich Hospital later that day.

"It's not fair on the crews to have to travel that far to a job - the pressure they are under is unbelievable," said Mr Hollywood, from Flempton, near Bury St Edmunds. "This sort of thing is going on all the time and things are not improving at all.

"It is not going to change until the Government prioritises the ambulance service.

"When I joined in 1966 it was known as the Cinderella service and it still is now - nothing has changed. There must be more crews."

It has emerged there should have been three more ambulances on duty across Suffolk on the night Mr Halley-Frame died.

The trust also said it would not have been "standard practice" to call upon one of the Port of Felixstowe's two full-time ambulances for an Ipswich incident.

It has an agreement with the port to use the vehicles as back-up in Felixstowe and the surrounding area.

Tim Yeo, a former shadow health secretary and Conservative MP for Suffolk South, said: "This is a particularly tragic case and I think people will be looking for an explanation for what happened and reassurances that it will not happen again.

"The public confidence in the NHS and particularly the ambulance service depends on a high level of service and cases like this will alarm people that something similar could happen to them or their families."

Matthew Ware, spokesman for the East Anglian Ambulance Trust, said: "In the Ipswich area, we reach, on average, 80 to 85% of life-threatening calls within eight minutes. The Government's target is that we must reach at least 75%.

"999 call volume has been relentlessly increasing now for more than a decade - it has nearly doubled in five to six years.

"This fact has been recognised by the commissioners of the ambulance service - Primary Care Trusts - who have invested several million pounds in additional ambulance resources over this period.

"However, a detailed review undertaken by the service has shown definite gaps are present where, in exceptional circumstances, core volume may exceed the ability to respond.

"In terms of shift cover, we are rearranging our rotas in September for the Ipswich area. We hope that this will mean we can fill all shifts more regularly."

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