Suffolk: Ambulance stopped for fuel while heart attack patient was on board

Ambulance on fire in Witham

Ambulance on fire in Witham

AN emergency heart attack victim was delayed hospital treatment whilst the ambulance filled up at a petrol station, it has emerged.

In January we reported how one in four heart attack patients from east Suffolk were not receiving specialist care within the nationally recommended time.

Further details on each delay have now emerged and range from late ambulances, including one ambulance getting delayed by fog and one needing to refuel, to patients waiting at the hospital before the operation.

And last night Witham MP Priti Patel called on chairman of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST), Maria Ball, to consider her position.

She said: “The wellbeing of patients has been put at risk by the Trust’s policies, which was then compounded by their failure to accept there were problems and address them. My constituents have no confidence in the Trust and the Chair should consider her position.”


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Between April 2011 and March last year, 26% of 168 patients suffering serious heart attacks failed to receive potentially life-saving treatment to unblock their arteries in the time recognised as giving people the best chance of recovery.

The figures - the result of a pathway introduced following a shake-up of emergency care in the region - were discussed at Suffolk Health Scrutiny Meeting in January, who then requested further details on the delays.

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Waveney MP Peter Aldous, said EEAST faced some difficult challenges but he was hopeful new interim chief executive Andrew Morgan would make the improvements needed.

“He is relatively new in post and putting in place measures to improve the service but there is an awful lot of work to do,” he said.

The national guidelines state patients should reach a PPCI (primary percutaneous coronary intervention) centre and receive angioplasty treatment within two-and-a-half hours of the initial call.

The procedure involves inserting a deflated balloon through blood vessels to the site of the blockage in the heart. At the blockage the balloon is inflated to allow blood to flow through again. A stent can then be inserted to permanently open the artery.

In May 2009 controversial new plans introduced by the East of England Specialised Commissioning Group, meant patients requiring angioplasty would be treated in one of three PPCI centres in East Anglia – at Papworth Hospital, the Norfolk and Norwich and Basildon.

The delays in treatment included three occasions of ambulances’ response time, 12 occasions of delays on scene which include clinical issues such as diagnosis, stabilisation or obtaining consent or waiting for a suitable vehicle or skilled crew to transport the patient, two delays during the journey (fog and refuelling) and 13 occasions once the patient has arrived at hospital, including confirming diagnosis, stabilising patient and case complexity.

A spokesman for NHS Suffolk said: “Our priority is to ensure that patients receive the very best treatment and PPCI has been clinically proven to be the most effective treatment for severe heart attacks.

“The potential benefits of PPCI far outweigh any concerns over travelling times. PPCI treatment can often mean a better chance of survival, a shorter hospital stay and a reduced likelihood of a patient having another heart attack. Mortality rates for people suffering a heart attack in East Suffolk are improving in line with those for East Anglia and the England average.”

The East of England Ambulance Service said refuelling on route to hospital was “not normal practise” but “sometimes it is unavoidable under exceptional circumstances and “when it is in the best interests of the patient”.

The spokeswoman added: “Time targets are just one measure – and we are working very hard on closing the 1% margin to meet the national target - but the main focus is on the outcome for the patient and the chances of surviving a heart attack in east Suffolk are better than the national average.”

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