Isle of Wight woman Christine Lightbody was on a visit to London for the New Year’s weekend when the NHS winter crisis – big news with Theresa May and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt both forced to apologise this week for the cancellation of all ‘non-urgent’ procedures for the whole of January – had a very direct and almost fatal impact on her.
Here’s how she relates the events:
On Sunday night (New year’s eve) I suddenly found myself unable to breathe at a restaurant in Hither green, London.
The whole place went into panic and my son called for an ambulance. They asked him various questions and when he said that I was still conscious they said that my condition wasn’t life threatening so I could not be a priority.
As luck would have it there was a nurse dining there and she was able to pull me through and get me breathing again. It turned out that I had gone into anaphylactic shock due to an allergic reaction to a spicy dip when my throat was already swollen and inflamed because of a bug.
40 minutes later no ambulance had arrived and we called to cancel it as I was ok by then. But what if the nurse hadn’t been there to help, or the reaction had been so severe that she couldn’t? To be sure I would have died in the restaurant that evening because the NHS is in crisis under this government.
To add insult to injury, I got back to the Isle of Wight on Monday and I tried to make an appointment as soon as GP surgeries were open again on the Tuesday – but none were available! Tried again 8am and 12noon Wednesday … still non available.
After persisting and saying that I was desperate for antibiotics for my throat and chest infection I was told to call 111. I went through the strangest assessment and was then told should go to A&E because I might be at risk of a deep vein thrombosis after travelling and then being inactive in bed for 2 days!!!!
I responded quite angrily because a) I felt too ill to go and sit in A&E for any length of time just for some tablets and b) I didn’t want to bother A&E at a time when they are over-burdened and in crisis and the solution to my health problem was a simple prescription.
The person then said she’d have to put me in touch with a clinician at 111 so who/what the heck was she?
The clinician went through the same procedure and accepted my reasons for not wanting (or needing) to go to A&E. She said she would call my surgery. Shortly afterwards, my doctor called and based on what I told her she asked me to go down to the surgery at 5.40 pm (even though there were previously no appointments according to the receptionist).
Ten minutes later I emerged with a prescription for antibiotics! Beggars belief!
The convoluted aftermath of the incident may give some insight into why calls to 111 numbers have been at record levels this winter. With A&E waits of over twelve hours not uncommon during the crisis, the fact that non-medical 111 personnel are sending people to A&E is of particular concern.
Far more serious, though, is the fact that a woman with an anaphylactic reaction that could very easily have been fatal was put on low priority for an ambulance and had to wait so long that she eventually cancelled it.
Under this government, ambulance waits outside under-resourced Accident and Emergency units have become endemic, creating massive backlogs of people waiting, it’s inevitable that such situations are being played out daily – with potentially fatal consequences.
Yet Jeremy Hunt still felt free to try deflecting blame via arrogant ‘whataboutery’ on social media, for which he was rightly pilloried.
Hunt’s flippancy cannot be allowed to deflect from the fact that these are life-and-death matters. The number of deaths of patients under the care of ambulance crews rose sharply last year. How many are dying before an ambulance crew even reaches them?
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