The family of the great-grandmother who broke her hip was told she was not “ineligible” for an ambulance, so they took her to the hospital themselves – on the cover of a sandblaster in a white van.
Pamela Rolfe, 79, was walking her dog when she collapsed on December 29, and passers-by helped her warm up by covering her with a duvet.
As the weather turned windy and rainy, her daughter Dawn Hamilton, 58, called to see where the ambulance was – and was stunned to hear that “due to the current crisis, she is not eligible for an ambulance at the moment”.
Mrs. Rolfe was walking her dog when she fell. Mrs. Hamilton’s partner had recently rented a white van and they were looking for an ironing board to put Mrs. Rolfe on, but he ripped the cover off the sandblaster instead.
The great-grandmother of two, from Johnstown, Wales, is now in a wheelchair and has no idea when she will be discharged from Wrexham Maelor Hospital.
The family said a 93-year-old woman in the same ward who broke her hip at home waited more than 33 hours for an ambulance.
Mother-of-three Ms Hamilton said: “My mum collapsed at 11am as we were doing our own ambulance service, she was in bed at 7pm.
“I got there around 12:30 and she was covered with a duvet. It started to rain, it was cold and windy.”
“I called the ambulance service for an update and was told ‘due to the current crisis, he is not eligible for ambulance service at this time,'” she continued.
“One of the first rules is not to touch anyone. A man in the park said someone recently died on the floor while waiting for an ambulance.
“My partner rented a white van, we were looking for an ironing board to support my mum’s leg.
“A neighbor ripped the lid off the sand bin and put it under my mum. We drove to where the ambulances were and a paramedic who is also a neighbor helped put her in a wheelchair.
“She passed right away and had surgery the next day. Couldn’t believe A&E, there were queues outside the door.
“We were told someone had been in the ambulance for 24 hours. If my mom got in the ambulance, she would be stuck in front of the ambulance, she might be dead.
“She turned 80 this month, she was in the park, she was exposed, it was windy and it was starting to rain – if she fell inside, there would be pain relief but she would be warm.”
Upon entering the hospital, the family says the nurses were “fantastic”, as were the paramedics who helped her into the wheelchair.
Stephen Sheldon, North Wales Service Manager for the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “We are very sorry to hear about Ms Rolfe’s experience and know how stressful it will be for her and those around her as they wait for our help.
“Unfortunately, her experience is not unique, and while that does not lessen Ms Rolfe’s concerns, it is symptomatic of the pressures all parts of health and care are facing in Wales – and across the UK.
“It is now not uncommon for more than 30 percent of our available crews to be stranded in hospitals, waiting for patient care to be transferred.
“This means they are unable to reach community patients like Ms Rolfe, which results in a very long wait for us to arrive.
“While we try to treat as many people as possible on the scene or access alternatives to the ER, this is often not possible or appropriate, meaning our patients and crews end up in hospital.
“There are currently around 1,700 patients in hospitals across Wales who are ready to be discharged but cannot go home as the right care and support is not available to them in the community so we have a vicious circle of patients stuck in hospitals which means less emergency beds, longer waits outside hospitals and fewer ambulances available in the community.
“This is not the level of service we want to provide and we are working hard to improve the situation as a matter of urgency.
“We wish Ms Rolfe all the best for a speedy recovery and invite her or her family to contact our Putting Things Right team to give us the opportunity to listen to their experiences in more detail and investigate the matter accordingly.”