A 57-year-old man has slammed the ambulance service after being forced to wait two hours for paramedics after he suffered a suspected heart attack.
Rob Johnson, who has a cardiac condition, was unable to speak or move his left arm and had crippling chest pains when he woke in the early hours of December 1.
He and his partner Trudy Thornton, 61, who are both experienced first aiders, realised the tell-tale signs of a heart attack and dialled 999.
The operator agreed Rob needed immediate assistance and said a community first responder would attend as well as an ambulance.
But an hour later there was still no sign of paramedics so Trudy called emergency services again only be be told a vehicle had not yet dispatched.
Another 60 minutes passed by before the couple decided to drive the 13 mile journey to hospital themselves along dark and narrow country lanes in the middle of the night.
Eventually Rob was assessed by medics at Horton General Hospital, in Banbury, Oxon., where it was confirmed he fortunately hadn’t suffered a heart attack.
Rob, Woodford Halse, Northants., said he would be dead if it had gone into cardiac arrest and has branded the ambulance service “barely fit for purpose.”
He said: “In the fifth-largest economy in the world this performance is just not good enough.
“Much as it saddens me to say it, today’s UK ambulance service is barely fit for purpose, putting at risk the lives of the very people it is supposed to serve.
“In failing to meet the required standards it is my view the service is professionally negligent and may be in breach of a number of statutory regulations, a situation I intend to investigate further.
“Had I gone into cardiac arrest, Trudy would have had to drag me out of her Mini onto the side of this dangerous, unlit road in the pouring rain to perform CPR.
“Fortunately, I am still here to tell the tale with no thanks to the ambulance service.”
Rob said call handlers were not able to give him an estimated time even though they agreed he required urgent medical care.
He added: “When Trudy phoned back after an hour, she was told an ambulance had not yet been tasked with our call. A few minutes later a call centre paramedic phoned back.
“He said I needed to be seen in hospital.
“I asked how long the ambulance would be. He was not able to give me an estimated time as an ambulance had still not been dispatched.
“We decided the quickest way to get me to a hospital was for Trudy to drive me herself.
“The nearest hospital with A&E facilities is the Horton General Hospital in Banbury. Despite being only 20 minutes away this journey was daunting.
“It’s little more than a twisting, rural country road, in poor condition and mostly unlit.”
Rob said his condition was classed as a Category 2, requiring an ambulance to arrive within an average time of 18 minutes
Trudy said her second call to the emergency services was met with a statement that it was “not unprecedented” delays and just the “same as normal”.
She said: “When I called back I was told there was still no dispatched vehicle.
“I was, frankly, terrified. I’ve had to administer CPR before. It’s an exhausting and lonely experience and that time I thought a crew were en route.
“Somebody else might not be as lucky.
“To know there is no help was really awful. Really awful.
“The thought of having to pull him out of my Mini in the middle of the night and flatten him out absolutely terrified me.
“When we got to Banbury General Hospital, they were amazing.
“We didn’t contact them to say we were coming in, so they met us blind but we went straight in. We didn’t have to wait at all.”
Tests confirmed Rob hadn’t had a heart attack and that it was a neurological event, due to a previous disorder.
Trudy, a grandmother who has been with partner Rob for the past 12 years, added: “That’s what triggered this weird thing with his heart.
“When it happened, he couldn’t speak. He couldn’t move his left arm. So from my perspective, it looks like a heart attack.
“Rob thought it was a heart attack. So, from my first aid training, you treat it as a heart attack.
“I said to them I realise it’s Saturday night, it might be busy. The call handler said this was a normal Saturday night for them. This wasn’t unprecedented. This is how we are.
“When we got to Banbury, there was just one ambulance transferring an elderly lady. No queues or anything like that.
“Rob would have been dead if it was a heart attack. He would have died. But I don’t want to think about that.”
East Midlands Ambulance Service said the delay was caused by ambulances stacking up at other hospitals, waiting to hand over patients.
Martin Claydon, Service Delivery Manager for Northamptonshire at EMAS said: “We are really sorry we were not able to reach Mr Johnson sooner.
“Our response time on this occasion fell below the standard we aim to provide.
“When we are busy, we have to prioritise patients with the most immediately life-threatening conditions.
“Using the information shared during the initial call, this incident was categorised as serious but not immediately life-threatening.
“At the time we were responding to a number of people whose life was reported to be at immediate risk.
“Until an ambulance was available, our Clinical Assessment Team of nurses and paramedics provided additional support over the telephone to Mr Johnson and those who were helping him.
“At the time of the call, the NHS was experiencing high demand and hospital staff were not able to accept a clinical handover from our crews in a timely manner.
“This means several of our ambulance crews were delayed at the hospital in the area.
“We do not have an infinite number of ambulances and when hospital handover delays occur, patients in the community waiting for a response to their emergency 999 call can experience a delay.
“EMAS has continued to escalate handover delay concerns to commissioners and regulators particularly about patient safety and where possible will continue to work very closely with NHS and social care partners to improve the welfare of our patients and staff.
“We are currently in contact with Mr Johnson through our Patient Advice and Liaison Service and would like to speak to him and his family so that we can fully investigate the reason for this delay.”