Thursday, November 06, 2008

Woman died after doctor in NHS 'cost cutting exercise' cancelled ambulance

From the Daily Telegraph, by Richard Savill, 5 November 2008:
A coroner has accused the NHS of systemic failure after a 60-year-old woman was found dead a week after her request for an ambulance was cancelled by a doctor involved in a "cost cutting exercise".

Ruth Hedge complained of vomiting, diarrhoea, and shaking, and an ambulance was initially dispatched to her home after she called 999 and spoke to an emergency controller.

But Dr Alan Stevenson, who was working on a pilot project for the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust, aimed at reducing unnecessary emergency callouts, stood it down after speaking to Mrs Hedge, an inquest heard.

Dr Stevenson advised Mrs Hedge to contact her local GP out-of-hours service instead, and told her: "I don't think an ambulance is what you need."

Mrs Hedge, a divorcee, made a number of calls but did not contact the correct service. Her body was found at her home in Borth, West Wales, a week later, after neighbours became concerned.

The Pembrokeshire Coroner Michael Howells, described the pilot scheme, no longer in operation, as a "cost-cutting exercise".
He said: "There was a systemic failure by the NHS to provide full help to patients.

"If an ambulance was not needed the control room should have been able to transfer patients' calls directly to their nearest out-of-hours service.

"Alternatively they should have provided patients with the correct telephone number.

"The fact she was not given the telephone number shows the current system is flawed.

"The aim should be to remove barriers, not to create them."

Mr Howells added: "What Dr Stevenson was involved in was a cost-cutting exercise to try to reduce the costs of the ambulance service.

"This death was perhaps avoidable, and is more sad for that reason."

The inquest in Aberystwyth heard that a post-mortem examination on mother-of-one Mrs Hedge was inconclusive.

Mr Howells recorded a narrative verdict that Mrs Hedge died of natural causes, aggravated by neglect.



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