The family of a grandmother who died while waiting in a queue of ambulances outside a hospital accident and emergency unit has criticised the NHS for the care she received.
Sonia Powell died in the back of the ambulance after waiting for more than half an hour outside Morriston hospital near Swansea on Wednesday afternoon. Her death has highlighted the widespread problem of patients having to stay in ambulances because A&Es are too busy.
It comes amid growing calls for an independent inquiry into the performance of the NHS in Wales, which has been criticised over missed treatment targets and a number of patient care scandals.
Powell, who was in her 70s and had 14 grandchildren, was transferred to the Morriston hospital from nearby Neath Port Talbot hospital after a suspected heart attack. But she died 36 minutes after arriving as the hospital struggled to cope with an unexpectedly large number of patients turning up in ambulances.
Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board (ABMU), which runs both hospitals, has launched an inquiry into events involving Powell, who was in her 70s. It is “reviewing all aspects of what happened and we are currently discussing these with the family,” it said.
It said that Powell left Neath Port Talbot hospital at 2.49pm accompanied by two paramedics and at 3.04pm reached the Morriston, where an A&E doctor began assessing her in the ambulance three minutes later. “A doctor remained with Mrs Powell on the ambulance until she sadly passed away at 3.40pm,” it said. The A&E unit was unusually busy that afternoon as 20 ambulances arrived or left within two hours, its statement said. The ambulance containing Powell was one of 12 all waiting to discharge their patient into the A&E unit at that time.
The unit was well-staffed at the time after triggering “escalation plans” that morning to help cope with increased demand, the board said. It admitted that “at peak times ambulance handovers can take longer than we would like,” but that the time involved had fallen recently.
However, Powell’s relatives have disputed the health board’s account of what happened after her arrival.
Kit Thompson, one of her granddaughters, said Powell had waited at least an hour outside the hospital and that a doctor arrived only five minutes before her death. The family was concerned about how Powell “was dealt with at the end”, particularly about the “lack of communication between the hospitals”. Thompson added that when her grandmother arrived, the ambulance driver took her medical notes into the hospital, after which the doctor who read them was frustrated that she had been brought there. Neath Port Talbot hospital has no A&E or cardiac care unit, whereas the Morriston hospital has both.
Gemma Evans, another granddaughter, said that her grandmother should “at least” have been given a hospital bed in which to die, surrounded by her family.