Norfolk family's anger as grandmother made to wait seven hours for ambulance

A family have spoken of their anger after their grandmother was told to "stay lying on the floor" for hours while she waited for an ambulance to arrive from more than 100 miles away.

Sonia Daniel, 88, fell at her home in Hethersett near Norwich last week and her son quickly called 999 - but was told it would be a long wait for an ambulance, and was advised to keep his mother in position until it arrived.

The family waited three-and-a-half hours for the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) to attend, but because Mrs Daniel has dementia, she soon became restless and they made the decision to move her.

The trust has since apologised and admitted it must improve.

It was not until seven hours after the initial phone call was made that the ambulance eventually turned up, having had to make the 115-mile journey from Milton Keynes due to the lack of available vehicles in Norfolk.

"I was feeling really angry at the fact that they had asked to leave an 88-year-old woman lying on the floor for potentially eight hours," Sonia's granddaughter Sarah told ITV News Anglia.

"After about three-and-a-half hours she was in so much distress she did get up. On the way to the hospital they then spent a further hour in the ambulance before they were admitted to A&E.

"I know they are stretched but there needs to be some sort of fast response or something for the comfort of the patient."

Lynn Driver, right, also had to call for an ambulance last week Credit: ITV News Anglia

It was not the only scare the family went through that week.

Mrs Daniel's daughter Lynn Driver also had to call for an ambulance after suffering a severe asthma attack - which was initially thought to be a heart attack - and waited an hour for paramedics to arrive.

Board papers for the trust behind the service show experiences similar to Mrs Daniel's and Mrs Driver's are not uncommon.

An ambulance responding to a call. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The papers, seen by ITV News Anglia, also showed:

  • A patient died after waiting for an hour for an ambulance. All were busy and nine were stuck  at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston waiting to unload other patients;

  •  A 66-year-old man who had a punctured lung lay on his kitchen floor for six hours, waiting for an ambulance;

  • Another stroke patient waited nine hours while his wife called 999 six times.

Marcus Bailey, chief operating officer for EEAST, apologised for the delays and admitted the service has to improve.

  • Watch an extended interview with Marcus Bailey

"This is not the service we want to provide," he said.

"Personally I am really sorry for that and for anyone who experiences a delay. Our response times are not where we want it to be, but would I expect to see a dramatic improvement over winter.

"It is very much about managing and supporting those patients who need it most."

Response time failures

Bosses say they are under extreme pressure - made worse by staffing numbers, Covid and hospital handover times - with more than 65% of those times exceeding 15 minutes in East Anglia.

For Category One calls - the most serious incidents - there is a target response time of seven minutes, but ambulance trusts have a secondary target of reaching 9 out of 10 patients in less than 15 minutes.

Figures released on Thursday revealed that nationally the average response time was nine minutes 20 secs last month, and around 16 and a half minutes for the secondary target.

The East of England Ambulance Service failed to hit either target or the national average -with a Category One response time of just over 10 and a half minutes, and a secondary target of around 19 and a half minutes.

On Wednesday, the trust had to declare a "critical incident" after its 999 call service went down, and nationally, call handlers had their busiest ever month in October - answering more than one million 999 calls.

Jonathan Ashworth meeting paramedics in Cambridge on Thursday. Credit: ITV News Anglia

'Extra funding not enough'

NHS England said £55m would be given to ambulance trusts to help recruit more call handlers, but on a visit to Cambridge on Thursday, the shadow heath secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for more to be done.

"We've seen the new figures today across the whole of the NHS now - intense pressure as we are heading into one of the most challenging winters in history.

"When you look at the figures, an average wait of 54 minutes for an ambulance if you've had a heart attack or stroke is simply not good enough."