More concern about ambulance service after death of teenager in which 999 crews went to wrong address
PUBLISHED: 09:01 05 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:51 05 March 2014
A woman has described the “chaos” surrounding her daughter’s death after an ambulance was sent to the wrong address as the schoolgirl suffered an asthma attack in Cambridgeshire.
The campaign and cases
The EDP’s Ambulance Watch campaign is fighting for a first-class ambulance service in East Anglia.
It has been highlighting the failings of the East of England Ambulance Service since October 2012.
Ambulance Watch was launched after patients contacted the EDP to report long waits for ambulances in rural Norfolk and Suffolk in their time of need.
Since the campaign began, there have been several high-level resignations at the service.
The campaign has exposed the trust’s paramedic recruitment
problems and the organisation’s over-reliance on less qualified emergency care assistants.
Ambulance Watch has highlighted a net decrease in the numbers of double-staffed ambulances in Norfolk and Suffolk, high private ambulance costs, and handover delays at Accident and Emergency departments.
Do you have an ambulance story? Email health correspondent Adam Gretton at email@example.com
The East of England Ambulance Service has been widely criticised over delays in recent months.
In December the family of Peter Nelson, 26, spoke out when he died following a two-hour ambulance wait after he collapsed at his home in Blakeney, Norfolk.
The incident came four months after a coroner described the trust’s crews as “chaotic” after hearing that three-month-old Bella Hellings died when paramedics took more than three times longer than national targets dictate to reach her home in Thetford, Norfolk.
The inquest heard that one vehicle got lost because “there were too many blue doors” on her street while another stopped for petrol while answering the 999 call in March.
In October last year, another inquest heard that Evelyn Heath, 93, from Attleborough, Norfolk, died from an irregular heartbeat in the back of an ambulance after the vehicle took more than four hours to reach her care home.
Elouise Keeling, 14, collapsed with breathing problems during an Air Cadets sports day at RAF Brampton near Huntingdon on June 25 last year.
An ambulance was called at 7.44pm but was sent to RAF Wyton, 10 miles away, by mistake and did not arrive until 8.03pm.
Elouise, who had suffered from asthma since she was 18 months old, died at the scene as her mother looked on helplessly.
The tragedy comes amid growing pressure on the East of England Ambulance Service over its response times.
Its failings have been highlighted by the EDP’s Ambulance Watch campaign since it launched in October 2012, in a bid to bring about improvements.
Karen Keeling, Elouise’s mother, told the inquest that she rushed to be by her “popular and bubbly” daughter’s side after she fell ill.
She added: “She rang me and said ‘Mum, my asthma is really bad, you need to come now’.
“She sounded really panicked.
“When I got to her she was lying on her back. Her eyes were open but she was unconscious.
“I knelt by her side and talked to her and kept telling her I was there.”
As Mrs Keeling tended to her daughter, she overheard a phone conversation with the ambulance service.
“I heard him saying, ‘You shouldn’t be there, you’ve gone to the wrong RAF base’,” she added.
“When they arrived it was quite chaotic.”
Crews are supposed to respond to the highest priority cases within eight minutes but that journey took 19 minutes.
Wing Commander Anthony Kelly, who is in charge of Air Cadets in Huntingdon, told the inquest at Huntingdon Law Courts that there had been incidents in 2006 and 2012 when ambulances had been unable to find the base because of an issue over the postcode.
“My understanding is that the matters were reported to the ambulance service,” he added.
Since Elouise’s death, both sites have been allocated individual postcodes.
Michael Smith, a senior Air Cadet instructor, made the 999 call.
“She turned blue and was struggling for breath. She said she was going to die,” he added.
He said the call handler insisted on him giving a postcode.
Mr Smith added: “She asked if it was RAF Brampton and Wyton.
“I said it was two separate bases and RAF Brampton was in the village of Brampton.”
The inquest heard that a call handler had assumed that because the two bases were linked administratively, they were geographically close together. Suzanne Truston, who took the call at an ambulance service base 75 miles away in Norwich, said: “Linked, to me, means close to or next to.”
She said the problem had come to light when she asked Mr Smith how far he was from a water tower, which was actually near Wyton.
“In hindsight the road name would have helped and I now always ask for a road name for any RAF base,” she added.
The inquest is expected to conclude today.
• For other Ambulance Watch stories, click here.