Devon pensioner left alone and in pain during 14-hour ambulance wait

  • Watch Charlotte Gay's report

An 87-year-old woman says she feared she 'wouldn't make it through the night' as she waited alone and in pain for an ambulance for 14 hours.

When paramedics eventually arrived to help Pat Rowledge, she then faced a further 12 hours waiting in the back of an ambulance outside A&E.

Pat lives on her own in Newton Abbot. She fell in her garden on July 9 and a series of failings led to her waiting 26 hours for treatment and spending three weeks in hospital.

The ambulance service has apologised to Pat, saying it has been "under sustained pressure for many months now".

Pat told ITV News West Country that she "couldn't move in any way" after tripping over a step watering her plants.

After repeatedly trying to speak to someone using her alarm pendant, she said she started to feel drowsy in the prolonged summer heat.

"I did wonder at one point whether I was going to get out of this. I didn't know what I was doing, what I was saying. That was it."

The pensioner had difficulty communicating with the alarm operator Appello because the receiver base was inside the house.

Appello says they could not hear Mrs Rowledge clearly but tried to contact her next of kin before calling an ambulance 10 minutes after the initial alarm.

Pat fell at around 9.30pm and the 87-year-old spent the night straddling the back step between her garden and conservatory.

Pat's children Leigh and Janice say their mother tripped in the garden when watering the plants Credit: ITV News

The following morning, Pat's son Leigh Grant, who lives in Surrey, learnt of his mother's fall and called the police to check on her welfare.

He said: "I said to [the police] I don't know if we need an ambulance or an undertaker because if she's been there in this heat for 13 hours it's pushing it as to what you're going to find."

At 11.30am the next day emergency services finally arrived, but the ordeal was far from over as the elderly mother was kept waiting outside Torbay Hospital's emergency department for a further 12 hours.

Pat only has one kidney so needed treatment for extreme dehydration, as well as medication for the cuts on her back. When inside hospital, she then contracted Covid-19.

Leigh says the whole experience has been "disturbing" and he and his sister have "lost confidence in the system".

He said: "I firmly believe that if someone would have got here more quickly, my mother would have been taken to A&E and she would have been released probably within 24 hours.

"But as a consequence of being left so long, she spent three weeks in hospital and then contracted Covid while she was there. So she is then occupying a bed in hospital, let alone an ambulance crew for their full shift. That just seems a hell of a waste of a very precious resource."

Now back in Newton Abbot, Pat says she would feel safer moving away from her home of 30 years to be closer with her family in Surrey.

Her daughter Janice says her mum has excellent neighbours, adding it is really upsetting she "doesn't feel safe" in her own home any more.

"That's terrible for someone of that age to think 'I have to uproot and move 200 miles'. Nobody should be put in that position."

South West Ambulance say they are working with NHS partners to try to reduce handover delays outside of emergency departments. Credit: ITV News

Both Torbay Hospital and South Western Ambulance offered their sincerest apologises saying "sustained pressure" on the emergency department and the healthcare system as a whole led to these delays in Mrs Rowledge's treatment.

A South Western Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We are sorry for the experience that Mrs Rowledge endured. Our ambulance clinicians strive every day to give their best to patients.

“The whole health and social care system has been under sustained pressure for many months now. This means that some patients are having to wait longer for an ambulance than they would expect.

“Our performance has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, partly due to handover delays at emergency departments.

“We are working with our partners in the NHS and across social care to ensure our ambulance clinicians can get back out on the road as quickly as possible, to respond to other 999 calls and improve the service that patients receive.”

Medical director for Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust Ian Currie said: “While we cannot comment on individual cases, patient safety is always our priority.

"We work closely with our colleagues in the ambulance service to make sure that anyone waiting in an ambulance is robustly assessed by one of our clinicians and care is escalated and prioritised appropriately. Patients who are waiting in ambulances are carefully and actively monitored."

Appello, the company behind the alarm service, says these circumstances were "deeply saddening" but it followed all its normal procedures trying to contact next of kin and then emergency services.

Chief Executive of Appello Tim Barclay said the "challenges being faced by the emergency services" had a "direct impact" on wait times for patients.

He said: "We received 10 further calls over the hours between the initial and the final call, all of which we answered and have call recordings for. In each instance we advised that an ambulance had been summoned.

"Having reviewed the call volumes for the dates of the 9 and 10 July, we can see that there were high levels of emergency ambulance-related calls being managed, which would directly impact on their ability for speedy follow-up actions to take place."