Hexham candidates questioned on ambulance delays after 88-year-old with broken hip left waiting 11 hours

The Prudhoe election hustings taking place at St Mary Magdalene Parish Church for the Hexham constituency candidates.
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Candidates standing in the Hexham constituency have shared personal stories of lengthy ambulance delays ahead of the General Election.

At a hustings event in Prudhoe on Thursday, a question submitted by an unnamed member of the public asked what the candidates would do to protect the NHS. The resident added that their 88-year-old mother had been forced to wait 11 hours on the floor for an ambulance after falling and breaking her hip.

Four of the candidates at the event revealed they had experienced similar stories with relatives and friends. Conservative incumbent Guy Opperman called for a closer relationship between the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) and the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust.

Mr Opperman said: "Three weeks ago I had a four day experience with my son who got terribly sick. We were in-patients for three and a half days at Cramlington and the care was outstanding.

"In respect of NEAS, it's well documented that they have had difficulties in the last year or two. I have dealt with several cases over the last year or so where NEAS is struggling with their response targets and that is not appropriate.

Guy Opperman, Conservative candidate in Hexham
Guy Opperman, Conservative candidate in Hexham -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

"To improve the NHS going forward, I would make the point we have invested £15 million into Hexham Hospital which is pretty substantial. The problem with NEAS is ambulances are dealing with problems in Newcastle and Gateshead too often - there aren't enough ambulances in our area.

"If we run a better localised system that integrated with Northumbria Healthcare, it would be better. It's a work in progress, we need to get various health trusts talking with each other better."

In April, NEAS officials told members of Northumberland County Council's health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee that the service's response to category one calls - those for life-threatening injuries and illnesses including people in cardiac arrest - were above target.

This made NEAS one of just a "handful" of services to be doing so in the country. However, with regards to category two calls - emergency calls for patients suffering with conditions such as heart attacks and strokes - the average response time was 33 minutes, while the 90th percentile response time was one hour and seven minutes.

This was below the target of 18 minutes response time, and a 90th percentile response time of 40 minutes.

Responding to the hustings question, Labour's candidate Joe Morris said: "This is an awful experience and something that is sadly very commonplace now. On New Year's Eve I had to wait for four and a half hours with my 90-year-old neighbour who had a fall.

Labour candidate Joe Morris
Labour candidate Joe Morris -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

"A 90-year-old should not be lying on the floor for hours in the bitter cold. It is shocking that the service has degraded to that point after 14 years of austerity.

"We have proposed 40,000 new NHS appointments every week. I do also want to make the point its not just the ambulance, it's waiting times in urgent care and A&E.

"My Grandma is 92, no fall is minor, no accident is minor. We spent a significant amount of time waiting 13, 14 hours in hospitals when she has had a fall.

"We need to address the crisis facing not just our NHS but our social care sector. We have an ageing population in this constituency and we need to ensure we have an MP who is dedicated to solving that."

SDP leader and candidate William Clouston also shared a story of long ambulance wait times.

SDP candidate and leader William Clouston
SDP candidate and leader William Clouston -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

He said: "Eighteen months ago, my son was playing football and one of his colleagues had a nasty fracture of his knee. After waiting five hours for an ambulance, they got a ladder from the swimming pool and took him to A&E in a works van.

"That was in central Manchester, it's not just out in the sticks - it's everywhere. What terrifies me is the tax base and the economy that supports the NHS.

"We have got to spend more money, but the Government is running a deficit of about £90 billion this year and are nowhere near balancing our books. Unless we face the economic fundamentals this will just get worse.

"Demand will go up for health services in the 2030s, it's terrifying. We need better labour market planning and train enough doctors, nurses and clinicians.

"Failure to do this costs the health service millions. It creates chaos."

Liberal Democrat candidate Nick Cott said: "I have a very close relative who has fallen a number of times and has had to wait for an ambulance. There needs to be a huge amount of searching and asking what is causing this problem.

Liberal Democrat candidate Nick Cott
Liberal Democrat candidate Nick Cott -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

"There needs to be more investment in the NHS. A question we could ask is why are elderly people falling in the first place? One of the issues is about of preventative care.

"We should be looking at all sorts of preventative work around trips and falls. It could involve the community and voluntary sector."

And Independent candidate Chris Whaley said: "When you hear stories like this, it beggars belief and you have to ask why. Why did that happen?

Independent candidate Chris Whaley
Independent candidate Chris Whaley -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

"Eleven hours is unbelievable. This is happening all over the country. You see the ambulance service on the TV and you see that these poor guys and girls are overworked, underpaid and stressed out.

"We need to look at the whole service and see where we are going wrong. That should never happen."

Green Party candidate Nick Morphet did not attend the hustings event.