A FORMER paramedic has warned that ‘lives are being put at risk’ as ambulance crews are being kept waiting for hours to hand patients over at an accident and emergency department.
Ron Dickson, of Lindale, was rushed to Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI) by paramedics earlier this month after suffering a suspected stroke.
He said he was ‘shocked’ to see ten ambulance personnel – five crews – waiting in corridors with patients because they were unable to ‘hand them over’ to hospital staff.
The 59-year-old, who is due to go into hospital for a heart bypass operation, said he was not triaged – the process of assessing patients to make sure they are seen in order of seriousness – for 90 minutes. The hospital says its target is 15 minutes.
Mr Dickson said it was not the job of ambulance crews to wait with patients.
And he asked: “What would happen if there was a serious incident while they were tied up?”
He was eventually seen by doctors and diagnosed with ‘benign vertigo’.
His wife and son had phoned for an ambulance, concerned he may be having a stroke, after he became dizzy and ‘couldn’t function’.
Mr Dickson worked in the ambulance service in Sussex for ten years before moving to the Lakes in the 1980s.
Shortly after moving he suffered a heart attack at the age of just 39, and has since had a further heart attack and a stroke.
“Obviously I’m quite a high risk patient with that cardiac history,” Mr Dickson said, “and the fact that I wasn’t triaged when I arrived is inexcusable.”
He and at least four other patients were left in the care of ambulance staff, which he said was ‘wrong’ and could cost lives.
“This was a Friday night and, on speaking to the crew I was informed this can go on for anything from an hour to four hours on busy nights,” he said.
Mr Dickson said he had since complained to the RLI and that managers blamed the delay on ‘departmental pressures’.
He said: “I think it’s wrong and dangerous to pass the buck to ambulance crew – their job should finish at the hospital door.
“I’m a big supporter of the health service and I have to stress that ambulance staff and doctors were exemplary, but clearly there is a major problem with the A&E system.”
Mary Aubrey, director of governance at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust, confirmed a formal complaint had been received and that it was being investigated.
“We apologise that there has been a need to raise a concern over this issue,” she said.
Paramedic and ambulance union rep Paul Carlisle, who highlighted the issue of RLI waiting times to The Gazette in 2011, said, “Things are a little bit better since then but not much has changed – I was working on Saturday and there were ambulance crews queueing.
“There is too much pressure on RLI, the wards are all busy and I don’t think things will change unless some pressure is taken off.
“However it seems to be happening at other A&E departments as well and it is a major concern.”
The North West Ambulance Service declined to comment.