A coroner has concluded that a two-and-a-half-hour wait for an ambulance significantly reduced the chances of a holidaymaker in Cornwall surviving a stroke, and blamed the social care crisis for a series of similar cases in the far south-west of Britain.
If the ambulance had reached Tony Reedman, 54, within the target time of 18 minutes, he would have had had a much better chance of responding to treatment, the assistant coroner for Cornwall, Guy Davies, said on Monday.
Davies said witnesses at Reedman’s inquest had described how ambulances were unable to hand over patients because of capacity issues at the Royal Cornwall hospital at Truro.
He said paramedics were sometimes waiting up to 18 hours in their parked vehicles with a patient outside the hospital, and he said the root cause of the problem was “the inability to discharge patients due to the absence of social care beds and packages”.
Reedman, described as fit and active, fell ill at a holiday cottage in the fishing village of Mevagissey in June 2021.
Triaged by South Western ambulance service as a category 2 case, the target time for the arrival of the ambulance was 18 minutes. Thrombolysis, used to remove a clot from the brain, was administered four and a half hours after the onset of stroke symptoms.
Davies said: “I find that the delay between the 999 call and Tony being taken to hospital significantly reduced his chances of surviving the blood clot. The average stroke patient has a one in three chance of a positive outcome following treatment by thrombolysis in the first hour following a stroke. This is reduced down to one in 30 after four and a half hours.”
But he added: “I find on the evidence it is not possible to definitively determine whether Tony would have survived if he had arrived at a hospital earlier.”
The senior Cornwall coroner, Andrew Cox, has written to the health secretary, Steve Barclay, flagging up the number of deaths happening after delays in ambulances reaching patients.
On Monday, Rishi Sunak said an extra £8bn announced by the government in the autumn statement for the NHS and social care would help health bosses “get on with the job” of tackling ambulance queues outside hospital A&E departments.
The prime minister said: “One of the most important things we need to do is support people to move out of hospitals back into their homes, back into their communities, and that’s why the money that we have put in is going to go and support social care.”
In a statement, the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly integrated care board, Cornwall council, Royal Cornwall hospitals NHS trust and South Western ambulance service NHS foundation trust said: “None of us want anyone to experience long waits for the care they need in the community, or in hospital.
“We have recently introduced new ways of working with the aim of reducing delays in patients’ journeys from their admission through to discharge in both our acute and community services. These changes have resulted in some improvement in ambulance response and handover times in Cornwall but we will continue to focus our efforts until we are confident all patients get timely access to care. Cornwall council has pledged significant investment in adult social care.”