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Pensioner with stroke symptoms waits 90 minutes for ambulance

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Care home staff in Diss had to wait an hour and a half for an ambulance after telling 999 operators they believed one of their residents was having a stroke.

Paramedics took 90 minutes – five times as long as the national target for emergency responders in England – to reach 86-year-old Pearl Hawes.

The news comes in the same week that whistleblowers from the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) revealed that the service is in crisis, with eight per cent of the workforce currently off sick.

Paramedics finally arrived at De Lucy House (pictured) after 90 minutes. Picture: Google (52289300)
Paramedics finally arrived at De Lucy House (pictured) after 90 minutes. Picture: Google (52289300)

Carers at De Lucy House first dialled 999 at around 6pm on Sunday, when Mrs Hawes, who has a history of transient ischaemic attacks, also known as mini strokes, became unable to recognise people.

“She started slurring her words and not knowing who people were,” said her son, 66-year-old Paul Cousins. “Within minutes, she was in a trance and didn’t know anything.

“She was sick, couldn’t talk and didn’t understand what was going on.

“They called the ambulance within minutes because she was showing all the symptoms of a stroke, and we tried to keep her calm.”

Despite being told by operators that Mrs Hawes’ case was a priority, family members and carers had an agonisingly long wait for paramedics to arrive.

“They said they thought it was a stroke and she was being treated as a priority, but that it could be a bit of a wait,” said Mr Cousins, of Rose Lane in Palgrave. “But how long, they didn’t know.

“I thought maybe they would be about 20 minutes. I kept saying we better ring them again to make sure they are definitely coming.”

Responders finally arrived at the care home, in Victoria Road, at around 7.30pm.

The great-grandmother-of-five is currently in hospital after it emerged that she was, in fact, suffering from dangerously high blood pressure.

In England, ambulance services are supposed to reach a patient showing signs of a stroke, known as ‘category B’ calls, within 18 minutes.

Mr Cousins praised the work of the responders, who spent half an hour running tests on Mrs Hawes before taking her to West Suffolk Hospital.

“When they got there, they were absolutely brilliant,” said the retired lorry driver.

“They spent about 30 minutes doing tests on her and were really thorough – we just couldn’t work out why it took so long. When I spoke to the operator, she said they hadn’t got enough trained people to man the ambulances.”

A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said that they experienced particularly high demand on that Sunday evening.

“At the time we received this call, we were experiencing very high demand for our services, which, unfortunately, meant that some patients had longer waits,” he said. “We would like to apologise for any additional stress that this caused.”

The spokesman explained that the service was seeing a rise in the number of emergency calls they receive, and it was putting in measures to get more crews on the road.

“We are working closely with all our NHS partners to manage patient flow,” he added.

“Calls are prioritised in order of urgent clinical need and we are currently seeing large numbers of acutely unwell patients.

“This does mean that some patients may wait longer for an ambulance to attend at busy times.

“We’re putting in place measures to increase the numbers of crews we have on the road, including offering additional overtime.

“We continue to work with hospitals across the region to support timely patient handover.”

Since August, the trust has been at its highest level of alert, which allows it to ramp up the use of private ambulances and call on the support of police and Armed Forces if needed.

While waiting for responders, Mrs Hawes’ daughter-in-law, Janet Cotton-Cousins, 56, put out a message on Facebook and was contacted by a number of good samaritans offering to drive the pensioner to hospital.

“I thought that was very kind of them because they could have been tying themselves in to one hell of a situation,” said Mrs Cotton-Cousins. “Talk about public support.”

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