A former nurse says she feels like "a ticking time bomb" as she waits for a heart operation while the NHS backlog in Wales is at a record high.
When Dorothy Clark - known as Dot - had a heart attack back in December she was told no ambulances were available and her son had to give her a lift to hospital.
The 68-year-old from Blackwood has spent her life helping others, from working on a hospital ward to nursing in care homes.
Her job meant that she knew to call 999 when she felt a pain in her arm on December 18 last year.
She said: "I was getting ready for work and I felt a pain in my arm which at first I thought was muscular. But then it got worse - it went right down my arm, neck and shoulder and I knew what it was.
"I rung 999 and I said 'I'm a nurse, I know what's happening, I'm having a heart attack.' And the lady on the phone said 'sorry, we don't have any ambulances'. I was totally shocked."
Dot was advised by the call operator to ask a neighbour or relative to give her a lift to the Grange Hospital in Cwmbran.
Her son, who lives 15 minutes away drove her another half an hour to the hospital where Dot eventually had an ECG which confirmed she was having a heart attack.
"They whizzed me off to resus then. They gave me some morphine for the pain and told me the cardiology department which does the stent is only open Monday to Friday 9am-5pm at the Grange so I'd have to go to the Heath."
Dot had an operation to put a stent in her heart at the Heath hospital in Cardiff.
She is now waiting for a heart bypass but says she hasn't been referred for her surgery because of the backlog.
"I'm basically just a ticking time bomb. I've got two more arteries narrowing which could close at any time. It's scary.
"If it hadn't have been for my son, I wouldn't be here," she said.
Jon Edwards, Assistant Director of Operations at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “We are truly sorry to hear about Mrs Clarke’s experience, which is absolutely not the service we want to provide for patients, let alone high priority patients.
“Mrs Clarke’s experience is a reflection of the extreme pressures across the entire urgent and emergency care system in recent weeks.
“Issues elsewhere in NHS Wales – like delayed discharges, which lengthen ambulance waits at the ‘front door’ of the Emergency Department – have a direct consequence for us because fewer ambulances are available to respond to patients in the community.
“Coupled with staff absence exacerbated by Covid-19 and a higher volume of calls, our ability to get to patients quickly has been significantly hampered.
“It’s as frustrating for crews as it is for patients, and we understand how distressing this would have been for Mrs Clarke and her loved ones.
“At times when demand outstrips the available supply of ambulances and lengthy response delays occur it may be better, balancing all the risks, for the patient to make their own way to the emergency department if they are able.
“We would invite Mrs Clarke to contact us directly so that we can better understand her concerns and establish a full sequence of events, but in the meantime hope that she is making a continued good recovery.”
NHS waiting times at record high
NHS waiting time figures for December 2021 released today (January 20) show the number of patients waiting to start treatment stood at 682,000 last month - a record high.
According to the figures, just 51% of ambulance red calls were being met within their eight-minute target time, which is 1.9% lower than November.
The average number of attendances per day at emergency departments decreased by 11.3% compared to the previous month but only 66.5% of patients spent less than 4 hours at A&E - the target is 95%.
The Welsh Government wants no patient to wait more than 12 hours at an emergency department. NHS Wales failed to reach that target once again in December with 8,500 patients waiting for 12 hours or more. This however is 252 fewer than the previous month.
Responding to the latest NHS performance statistics, Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said: “The statistics show the extreme levels of demand on the NHS and the impact Covid is having on our ability to treat those in need.
“However, it’s important to remember this data reflects the situation before the Omicron variant took hold and staff sickness absences rocketed across the NHS and social care. We must therefore be realistic about what subsequent reports will show and how quickly services will be able to bounce back now Covid-related admissions are showing tentative signs of declining.
“Behind these statistics are both patients and staff. More is being done to care for those on waiting lists and exhausted staff are doing everything they can to treat as many people as quickly and safely as possible. We can’t thank them enough.”
Commenting, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said:
“Today’s figures show that there is no letting up on the pressure bearing down on the NHS. While our medical staff work around the clock, doing their best, they are still not being equipped to see patients in timely manner, despite Labour having over 20 years to do so.
“Of course, decades of NHS bed cuts and mismanagement by a Labour Government in Cardiff Bay have only exacerbated things but a reversal in this trend could be in sight if they recognise the need to live with coronavirus.
“We know that Covid is now not causing mass hospitalisations and deaths, but is harming public services – as well as private businesses – through isolation requirements, leading to staff shortages. Eventually, Labour ministers will have to exit their current tunnel vision as such restrictions do more harm than good.”
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS described these figures as a "tragedy" and said more long term solutions were required.
She called for more investment in community healthcare and GPs and more action on social care to reduce pressure on emergency services.
Welsh Government response
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our NHS is currently dealing with a hugely difficult winter, whilst facing the gruelling challenges of the Omicron variant, severe winter pressures and staff absences caused by the pandemic.
“Healthcare workers should be commended for their determination to maintain high quality care to hundreds of thousands of patients each month, as well as supporting record breaking levels of boosters during the latest phase of our Covid-19 programme over the last two months.
“We are doing all we can to support our urgent and emergency care services and we would urge everyone to Help Us, Help You this winter by considering how and when they access care.
“The ‘My Winter Health Plan’ scheme will celebrate its fifth anniversary later this year, and offers an easy way for people with long-term physical or mental health conditions to share information with visiting health professionals so they get the right care for their personal circumstances. This can often prevent an avoidable trip to hospital.
“We will distribute an additional 20,000 plans this winter, which will be available from community pharmacies across Wales and downloadable from the NHS 111 Wales website.
"Your local pharmacy and the 111 online service can provide advice for minor illnesses and ailments.”