Criticism levelled at patient ambulance service

January 26, 2010

By Brónagh Murphy

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Patient Care Service has come under criticism from a local man after his wife waited hours on an ambulance which failed to turn up.

James Hughes from Dromintee contacted The Examiner after a pre-booked ambulance failed collect his disabled wife to take her for a hospital appointment on Monday last.

To add insult to injury, when querying why the ambulance didn’t arrive, the couple were told that it had been at their Forest Park home and that they failed to answer their door to the driver.

Mr Hughes says this allegation has angered both him and his wife as they had been keeping watch for the ambulance for several hours and insist it did not come to their home nor did its driver knock their door.  He added that they had been waiting from 7.00am for the ambulance to transport his wife to the Mater Hospital in Belfast.

The ambulance had been pre-booked by the hospital and it’s a service Mrs Hughes has used in the past due to her limited mobility.

Mr Hughes says shortly before 10.00am a nurse from the hospital telephoned his wife to find out why she had not kept her appointment.  When told about the failure of the ambulance to arrive, she promised to investigate the matter.

It was soon after this that the nurse rang back to say that she had been told by the NIAS that the ambulance did go to Mrs Hughes’s home but no one answered the door to the driver.

The couple say this claim has greatly upset them and accused NIAS of ‘making excuses.’

“It was bad enough that the ambulance didn’t turn up but then to blame us for not answering the door.  They definitely weren’t here and they’re trying to put the blame on us,” Mr Hughes said.

Mrs Hughes’s missed appointment led to the cancellation of scheduled surgery for which she must now wait on another appointment.

Let down

It appears that this is not an isolated incident and that other patients in the area have been let down by the service as ambulances arrive late or fail to turn up at all.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service says he cannot comment on individual cases but gave assurances that he would investigate Mrs Hughes’s case.

“The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has been made aware of the concerns of a patient regarding transport to an outpatient’s appointment in Belfast on Monday 18 January 2010,” the statement read.

“NIAS has in place a robust complaints procedure and would encourage any patient, or carer, who has a concern to express about the service provided to contact the Trust through this procedure. The Complaints Manager can be contacted by phoning 028 9040 0999.”

The statement continued: “In general terms, NIAS transports more than 200,000 patients to outpatient appointments per year. Given the rural make up of Northern Ireland it is necessary for our Patient Care Service to transport more than one patient at a time in our minibus type ambulances.

“When patients with outpatient appointments have a clinical requirement for ambulance transport the hospital, or GP, requesting the transport is advised that patients should be ready from 8.00am. However, because of the journey time between each pick up location, there may be a delay for some patients.  Regrettably this may also result in some patients being late for appointments.  However, it is our experience that outpatient clinics are fully understanding of the difficulties faced in relation to this and make provision for late arrivals.

“NIAS would regret any inconvenience caused by the way in which we need to operate this service, which is kept under review in order to enhance the service provided to our patients.”