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NHS uses Private Ambulance Services

The NHS has increased its spending on private ambulances. It has trebled over the last 4 years.

This fact was brought into sharp focus recently at the inquest into the death of Gary Page.

Gary experienced pains in his chest and right arm. His wife telephoned ‘111’ in order to seek advice. The relevant Trust (East of England Ambulance Trust) sent a private ambulance team because they were busy. This, it seems is a regular occurrence throughout the country. The ambulance crew did not have a paramedic, the most senior member H being an emergency technician.

Gary’s wife remembers H saying “it is definitely not your heart, you are not having a heart attack.”

Heart traces were carried out. The results showed an abnormal heart beat.

Another member of the team expressed concern but H thought that Gary might have pulled a muscle or was suffering from indigestion, and gave the impression to Gary’s wife that a hospital attendance was not necessary.

Especially, whilst still in pain (and without his reading glasses) Gary signed a waiver to the effect that he agreed not to go to hospital.

Gary’s symptoms did not ease. He moved into the spare room to be more comfortable. Just before dawn, his wife awoke to hear unusually heavy snoring from the spare room. She tried to wake Gary and being concerned telephoned 999 this time an NHS Ambulance attended but it was too late and sadly Gary passed away.

It is reported that he died 10 hours ago after his symptoms began and lived just minutes away from a specialist unit.

The inquest into Gary’s death heard that the reason for his death was the hospital’s failure to realise that Gary was suffering a heart attack and for not contacting the clinical advice line for further support even when prompted to do so by a junior colleague.

Although at the time sending an ambulance without a paramedic was not against its rules, the trust has since clarified rules for private ambulances such that any medic below paramedic level must either take a patient to a hospital or telephone the clinical advice line to explain why the patient can be discharged.

It is understood that the trust has apologised to Gary’s widow. In the light of the coroner’s criticisms of the trust it can be anticipated that Gary’s widow will be advised to pursue a claim for compensation.

This case outlines the need for confidence in all ambulance services, NHS or private, and in particular that staff are sufficiently trained and, supervised and that their employers are accountable.

Laurie Green
Partner, Head of Dispute Resolution

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