Yesterday in health questions, I highlighted the shocking case of Mrs Evans-Woodward, a resident of the Aylesbury constituency:
Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con):Aylesbury constituent Mrs Evans-Woodward is a young woman who has had five heart attacks. One evening her husband drove her to Wycombe’s heart attack unit with a racing pulse, but she was turned away to the minor injuries unit, which again turned her away to the accident and emergency unit in Stoke Mandeville, before suggesting that she sit outside and call an ambulance, which she duly did—all of this with a racing pulse of 180. This is not good enough. It is an appalling prioritisation of bureaucracy over simple human care and compassion. Does it not show that the NHS needs to become much more accountable to patients?
Dr Poulter: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am very sorry to hear of the case he outlined. Clearly the care that his constituent received was more than substandard. If a patient needs immediate treatment, they should always receive it. This Government are quite rightly ensuring that we embed good care in everything we do. We have beefed up the role of the Care Quality Commission to improve the inspection of care quality throughout the NHS and the care sector. We are also introducing a friends and family test to pick up on examples of bad care, so that the NHS can properly learn from them locally and so that these things do not happen.
Although a young mum, Mrs Evans-Woodward has a history of heart attacks. When she came over with palpitations, her husband knew her life might depend on getting her to Wycombe’s cardiac unit as quickly as possible. Ambulances had repeated difficulty in finding their remote home in the past and as it was dark, he made the decision to drive her to hospital himself. When they arrived, Mrs Evans-Woodward and her husband were naturally frightened but believed that she was now going to be safe.
Unhappily, they say the cardiac unit and the GP-led Minor Injuries Unit both turned them away, ultimately suggesting they call an ambulance from outside the hospital, as only an ambulance crew could refer someone for admission. It seems that although Mrs Evans-Woodward’s pulse was 180, she was forced to walk out and call an ambulance from the car park. Mercifully, the paramedics arrived in only 7 minutes and did their duty by walking her in.
It is surely unacceptable to betray not just the principle that the NHS cares for its patients but the norms of ordinary decent humanity. Even a lapsed first-aider like me would at least shelter a patient, call an ambulance, monitor and reassure.
I understand the neatness of emergency patients arriving by ambulance but there is no excuse whatever for not swiftly enabling proper care to a person who is in immediate fear for their life. Sending people out into the cold doesn’t cut the mustard. Wycombe has the county’s primary cardiac unit. Mr & Mrs Evans-Woodward had come to the right place but it appears there was no way to let them in without calling an ambulance. If this is the actual procedure rather than a mistake, them the rules are clearly wrong.
I have repeatedly argued that what people need from 24/7 urgent care is this: a door through which we can walk, after which our problems will be taken care of, one way or another. We might be treated immediately. We might be admitted to hospital locally. We might be reassured and referred to the right provision elsewhere. Or an ambulance might be called and we might be reassured while waiting for it to take us to another specialist unit. Whichever the pathway taken, people should feel that someone is helping them and things are about to get better. Without this, triage and admitance procedures short of full A & E will always be a source of dissatisfaction and controversy.
I am having a question asked about this at today’s Healthcare Trust board meeting at Wycombe Hospital. I look forward to hearing how such an apparently grotesque failure to care will never happen again and how the 24/7 facility can be designed to ensure everyone who arrives is treated properly.