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Canterbury man died after waiting two hours for ambulance following heart attack


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A widow whose husband died after waiting two hours for an ambulance believes he would have survived if he had been reached sooner.

Ian Day, who had a history of heart problems, died of a heart attack the day after his 80th birthday after experiencing excruciating chest pain at his home in Sturry, near Canterbury.

Sharon Day's husband Ian died after waiting two hours for an ambulance. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Sharon Day's husband Ian died after waiting two hours for an ambulance. Picture: Barry Goodwin

His wife’s 999 call was classed as a category 2 – meaning the ambulance service aimed to reach him within 18 minutes.

But it took paramedics two hours to arrive, and Ian tragically died in hospital a short while later.

His heartbroken widow Sharon, 79, has spoken out as ambulance response times have reached their worst levels on record, and she fears others could experience similar tragedies.

“I find it hard to ever think I’ll get over it,” she said. “Something needs to happen.”

Ian had his first heart attack in 2002, but recovered well and proceeded to work as a painter and decorator until he was 70.

Sharon and Ian at Ian's 80th birthday party. Picture: Sharon Day
Sharon and Ian at Ian's 80th birthday party. Picture: Sharon Day

But at the end of last year, he began experiencing chest pains.

He was prescribed medication for angina, but the pain persisted and on June 25 became so bad he was taken to hospital.

He was told he would need a cardiogram and that he may need a stent fitted, and was discharged.

“All they gave him was pills,” said Sharon.

“He was still in pain, but he was just left to carry on.”

Ian Day celebrating his 80th birthday with his family at a restaurant in Whitstable the night before his death
Ian Day celebrating his 80th birthday with his family at a restaurant in Whitstable the night before his death

On July 28, Ian celebrated his 80th birthday with a family dinner in Whitstable.

But on arriving home, his pain worsened dramatically and he went to bed.

“I went in to see him and he was sitting on the side of his bed clutching his chest,” recalls Sharon. “He was in agony.”

She called 999 at just before 1am and was told an ambulance would be sent.

But by about 1.40am there was still no sign of it and she frantically rang back.

“I said, ‘My husband’s having a heart attack. He’s in agony, with chest pains’,” she said.

Ambulance calls are triaged into four categories, according to the patient’s condition.

South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) says Ian’s case was treated as a category 2 incident.

Ian and Sharon at Ian's 80th birthday party, the week he died. Picture: Sharon Day
Ian and Sharon at Ian's 80th birthday party, the week he died. Picture: Sharon Day

NHS England performance targets say such emergencies should be responded to in 18 minutes on average, and that 90% should be reached within 40 minutes.

But the ambulance did not arrive until after 2.55am – almost two hours after it was called.

“By this time, Ian was in really bad pain,” said Sharon.

“He could hardly breathe. It was horrible.”

Ian was given oxygen and morphine and was taken to the QEQM hospital in Margate.

“Half-an-hour later he rang me,” said Sharon.

“I told him I loved him and he told me he loved me, and that was the last thing I said to him.

“I never spoke to him again because he died.”

Ian tragically went into cardiac arrest at about 7am.

Sharon describes her husband as 'a lovely, lovely man'. Picture: Sharon Day
Sharon describes her husband as 'a lovely, lovely man'. Picture: Sharon Day

Sharon received a call from the QEQM telling her to rush to the hospital as Ian was “very, very poorly”, but he had sadly died by the time she arrived.

Ian leaves behind four children, 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

His family believe he would still be alive had paramedics reached him earlier.

“He would have survived,” said Sharon. “He’d have had a chance.”

Sharon describes her husband as “a strong man” who “lived for his family”.

She and Ian celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in January.

Sharon says something must be done to improve ambulance waiting times. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Sharon says something must be done to improve ambulance waiting times. Picture: Barry Goodwin

“I know he was 80 but he didn’t look his age, he didn’t act it,” she said. “He had a will to live.

“I’d hoped I had a few years left with him. We still had a lot of things to do, and he loved his family so much.

“He just loved living. He was an amazing man.”

Worst waiting times ever with demand increasing

Ambulance waiting times across Kent are currently the worst on record.

Bosses at Secamb say that when Ian fell ill in July, it was answering more than 3,000 calls a day – an increase of 24% on July 2019.

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Demand has since grown further, with 105,369 calls received in October – the equivalent of one every 25 seconds and its busiest ever month.

As 999 calls increase, ambulance response times are suffering.

In October, the average response time for the most urgent call-outs – category 1 – was nine minutes and eight seconds.

The NHS target is seven minutes.

For category 2 calls – which include someone who has suffered a stroke or heart attack, or is suffering from sepsis or major burns – the average response time was 34 minutes and 56 seconds, almost double the 18-minute target.

For category 3 calls – for urgent incidents which are not life-threatening – the average response time was more than three hours, with one-in-10 people waiting more than eight hours.

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Sharon says ambulance response times must be improved, to prevent other families suffering as hers has.

“I feel really really sorry for (other people left waiting for ambulances), I really do,” she said.

“Because I know what I’ve gone through and what I’m still going through, and I find it hard to ever think I’ll get over it.

“Something needs to happen.

“They should make it possible for ambulances to be like they used to be years ago.

“They used to be there within minutes of anybody calling with a heart attack, but now waiting times are just getting longer and longer.”

Service is 'very sorry for the delay'

The ambulance service has apologised for its delay in reaching Mr Day.

A spokesman for Secamb said: “We would like to send our sincere condolences to Mrs Day.

“We are very sorry for her experience and for the delay involved in responding to her call.

“We appreciate how distressing this would have been. We invite her to contact us directly so we can look into her concerns with her in more detail.

“Throughout the whole summer we have been extremely busy and we continue to face high demand.

“We are very sorry that this has meant some patients have waited longer than they should. Our staff are working hard to respond to patients as quickly as possible.

“The public can help us manage this increased demand by only calling 999 in the event of a serious emergency and by making use of alternatives to 999, including NHS 111 online if it’s urgent but not an emergency."

Treatment at hospital also a cause for concern

Sharon also feels Ian’s outcome may have been different had he been treated sooner by hospital staff.

Ian had repeatedly made health workers aware of his chest pain in the months before his death.

The Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother Hospital in Margate
The Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother Hospital in Margate

He was admitted to hospital due to the pain a month before he died, but was discharged with medication.

At the time of his death, he had been awaiting an angiogram that would have determined whether he needed a stent fitted. But his appointment letter tragically did not come through until after his death.

“It was awful,” said Sharon. “I had to phone up and cancel it. I just felt sick, and I still do.”

Sharon says the way her husband was treated at hospital after his death caused additional distress to her and her family.

“By the time we got to the hospital at about 8am, he’d died,” she said.

“He was left laying on the bed in A&E in this little side room, with his mouth wide open.

“You could see right down the back of his throat, and he had this big tube sticking out of his mouth.

“A horrible sight. I couldn’t even kiss him.

“Me and my daughter can’t get the sight of him laying there like that out of our heads.

“Every time I go to sleep at night, I can see him laying there with his mouth wide open and this big tube sticking out. It was just the worst experience.”

Responding to Sharon’s concerns, a spokesman for East Kent Hospitals said: “We would like to offer our sympathies to Mr Day’s family after his sad death and would be happy to discuss any concerns they have about his care.

“We sincerely apologise that his appointment letter was received after his death – unfortunately it had already been produced before the information system was updated.”

NHS in crisis

It is not just ambulance waiting times that are suffering amid the increased pressure.

Kent’s A&E departments are also seeing more patients than ever before, while hundreds of hospital workers are off sick.

Stock image
Stock image

In October more than 55,000 people arrived at the county’s emergency units – the equivalent of one person every 48 seconds.

Almost a third of all A&E visitors in that month had to wait more than four hours, while more than 150 were left waiting 12 hours.

Joshua Cooper, the regional organiser for health worker union Unison, says the NHS has been experiencing “winter-style pressures” for months and that many NHS workers “have reached burn-out”.

As of November 3, almost 1,000 members of hospital staff were off sick across the county.

Mr Cooper says the pressure is taking a toll on frontline workers.

“Staff are increasingly concerned that pressures on the system are compromising their codes of conduct..."

He said: “Lengthy delays are causing much distress to ambulance crews, control room staff and emergency department workers.

“They can’t respond as quickly as they would like to emergency calls and situations.

“Staff are increasingly concerned that pressures on the system are compromising their codes of conduct.

“Employers must act swiftly by doing all they can to limit the unprecedented pressures on staff."

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