Terrified woman having heart attack alone told ambulances ‘couldn’t get to her’

A nurse who had a heart attack while home alone dialled 999 only to be told that there were no ambulances and she should make her own way to hospital.

Dot Clarke, a care home nurse from Blackwood in Caerphilly borough, says she was left “in disbelief and terrified” after the ordeal on December 18.

“I was home alone, my husband was out at work and I’d got up to work my night shift,” she explained to WalesOnline.

“First of all I felt like I had pulled a muscle in my arm, so I put some pain relief gel on."

But then the pain spread to her neck and chest and Dot realised she was experiencing the early stages of a coronary

“I rang 999 and told them ‘I’m a nurse, I know things are in a bad way, I know I’m having a heart attack’," she said.

"The woman on the phone said ‘I’m sorry there are no ambulances available’.

“I said ‘what am I supposed to do, die? I’m on my own.’ I just couldn’t believe it. I know there are ambulances waiting in A&E car parks because there is nowhere else to go.

"I have residents in my care home waiting up to 10 hours for an ambulance – but I didn’t know it was anywhere near as bad as this. I know a heart attack is a category one priority.”

Dot called her son who “drove like a madman” to collect her and take her to the Grange Hospital near Cwmbran.

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The problems didn’t end when he got her there though: “We got to A&E and swung into a space in front of the building,” said Dot, “before a parking attendant came and told us to move the car. My son had to park further away from the building and wheel me in himself while I was doubled over in pain.”

She added: “It was an hour before I had an ECG and then a nurse came and told me I’d had a heart attack, which I already knew.

“We were then told the cardiac department at the Grange was only open Monday to Friday nine until five.

“An ambulance took me to the Heath for surgery. So within three hours from when I got to the Grange I was finally where I needed to be.

“They wheeled me straight into theatre at the Heath and I had a stent put in. I can’t fault the team at the Heath, they were excellent.”

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Dot’s grandson says when his father and grandmother got to the Grange there “must have been 15 or 16 ambulances parked up outside” with patients waiting for treatment.

Jon Edwards, the Welsh Ambulance Service’s Assistant Director of Operations said Dot’s experience was a “reflection of extreme pressures” facing the service.

“We are truly sorry to hear about Mrs Clarke’s experience, which is absolutely not the service we want to provide for patients, let alone high priority patients,” he said.

“Mrs Clarke’s experience is a reflection of the extreme pressures across the entire urgent and emergency care system in recent weeks.”

He said that staff absences due to Covid-19 had significantly affected NHS Wales’s ability to deal with emergency patients.

“It’s as frustrating for crews as it is for patients, and we understand how distressing this would have been for Mrs Clarke and her loved ones”.

“At times when demand outstrips the available supply of ambulances and lengthy response delays occur it may be better, balancing all the risks, for the patient to make their own way to the emergency department if they are able.

He added that he had asked Dot to get in touch “so that we can better understand her concerns and establish a full sequence of events.”

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