A 999 call for an ambulance to a desperately ill woman who later died was given the wrong priority, an inquest heard.
Elaine Hidden’s family called the Welsh Ambulance Service three times in 55 minutes before an ambulance arrived at the scene. She had become seriously ill with vomiting and diarrhoea at the family’s home in Llwynmawr, Llangollen, and her condition deteriorated during the evening of February, 26 2018.
The first call was made shortly after 6pm that evening. The second, made about 25 minutes later, was incorrectly coded ‘amber 1’ rather than ‘red’, which led to a delay in an ambulance attending, North Wales Live reports. The last call was made after Mrs Hidden’s husband, Colin, started CPR on her when she stopped breathing. She was certified dead at 7.51pm, despite efforts to save her.
Mr Hidden said the paramedics were “amazing” when they arrived at the scene. But the family had questioned whether she could have been saved if the second call had been correctly coded and an ambulance had arrived sooner.
However, they accepted the evidence of independent expert consultant Dr Barbara Philips and assistant medical director for the ambulance service, Dr Jonathan Whelan, who said it was unlikely to have made any difference.
The inquest heard Mrs Hidden had conditions including chronic fatigue, aches and pains, asthma, diabetes and vocal chord dysfunction. But at the time of her death she had lost a lot of weight and had been “fit and healthy” said her husband Colin Hidden.
He said they had eaten at a Chinese restaurant on the weekend before she died and the following day she began to feel unwell. Mr Hidden said she went “downhill rapidly from talking normally to being delirious.”
A post-mortem examination concluded that she died of aspiration pneumonia, having inhaled food or saliva, with asthma and vocal chord dysfunction contributing factors.
Welsh Ambulance Service call centre manager Gill Pleming said the first and third calls were coded correctly, amber 1 and red, respectively. But the second should have been coded red and not amber 1.
Amber 1 requires an ambulance to be sent to a patient. There is no time limit on this and patients are prioritised according to their condition. Code red aims to get an ambulance to its destination in eight minutes, depending on pressures, 65% of the time and the Wrexham area had one of the best records in achieving this, Ms Pleming said.
The inquest heard it was a busy night for the ambulance service and, at the time Mrs Hidden fell ill, 21 of the 32 vehicles in operation in the area were tied up waiting at hospitals to transfer patients. Over the course of the day, 178 ambulance hours were lost in delays handing patients over.
The inquest also heard an ambulance crew working an 11.5-hour shift could find themselves spending more than half of that caring for a patient outside a hospital.
Assistant coroner for North Wales East and Central, David Lewis, recorded a conclusion of death by natural causes. Extending his condolences, he said the family had endured an “unimaginable experience”. Mr Lewis added that although Mrs Hidden may still have died, a speedier response from WAS may have given them more comfort.
As painful as these proceedings are for those who have lost a loved one the lessons that can be learned from inquests can go a long way to saving others’ lives.
The press has a legal right to attend inquests and has a responsibility to report on them as part of their duty to uphold the principle of open justice.
It’s a journalist’s duty to make sure the public understands the reasons why someone has died and to make sure their deaths are not kept secret. An inquest report can also clear up any rumours or suspicion surrounding a person’s death.
But, most importantly of all, an inquest report can draw attention to circumstances which may stop further deaths from happening.
Should journalists shy away from attending inquests then an entire arm of the judicial system is not held to account.
Inquests can often prompt a wider discussion on serious issues, the most recent of these being mental health and suicide.
Editors actively ask and encourage reporters to speak to the family and friends of a person who is the subject of an inquest. Their contributions help us create a clearer picture of the person who died and also provides the opportunity to pay tribute to their loved one.
Often families do not wish to speak to the press and of course that decision has to be respected. However, as has been seen by many powerful media campaigns, the input of a person’s family and friends can make all the difference in helping to save others.
Without the attendance of the press at inquests questions will remain unanswered and lives will be lost.
Speaking after the inquest, Mr Hidden said this was about trying to ensure this never happened to anybody else.
“What we tried to highlight here is that the ambulance is at a fault somewhere, where people can’t get to our area, which is not that rural from Wrexham and it took an hour for an ambulance to arrive,” he said.
Ms Nicola Hidden-Ryan added: “The other concern is that ambulances spend half their shift parked-up outside Wrexham Maelor Hospital, because they are trying to hand over their patients.”
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