A ‘serious incident’ investigation will be carried out by the South East Coast Ambulance service and the Trust responsible for QEQM Hospital in Margate following the death of an elderly patient at the accident and emergency unit.
The patient passed away shortly after being brought to QEQM Hospital by an ambulance crew.
A delay in the handover time, where the hospital takes over care for a patient, has prompted the ‘serious incident’ investigation.
Care of a patient becomes the responsibility of the hospital 15 minutes after their arrival via ambulance. Any delay in that time is a breach of NHS rules. It is not clear how long the delay was in this instance although health bosses say the period between getting to A&E and the ‘end of life’ patient passing away was ‘short.’
The patient is said to have been waiting in a corridor, although the layout of the A&E at QEQM means that space is viewable to nursing staff.
An EKHUFT spokesman said: “Very sadly an elderly patient at the end of life passed away shortly after being brought to the hospital by ambulance and we extend our condolences to their family.”
A Secamb spokesman confirmed the service was carrying out an investigation and the outcome would be published.
The spokesman said: “Handover delays at hospitals is an issue we monitor closely across our whole region, as they can impact on our ability to respond to patients in the community as quickly as we would like.
“While the care of a patient officially becomes that of the hospital 15 minutes after arrival, we recognise that improving handover delays takes a whole system approach and we work closely with hospital and NHS partners to reduce delays.
“We are pleased that overall we have seen a reduction in the number of hours lost to hospital handover compared to last year.
“We take patient safety very seriously and have processes in place where issues can be formally raised for further investigation.
“Any Serious Incident raised goes through a formal process and involves a full and thorough investigation and we publish the outcomes of investigations in line with national guidelines. However, we would never publish aspects of any investigation which could lead to the identification of a patient.”
The incident came to light following an article in the Guardian newspaper which revealed a second patient died at East Surrey hospital in Redhill following a similar handover delay.
According to the Guardian 1,141 out of 9,535 ambulance arrivals at EKHUFT sites, including QEQM, have had to wait at least 30 minutes rather than the stipulated 15.
Carly Jeffrey, speaking for campaign group Save Our NHS in Kent, said pressures on frontline staff need to be urgently addressed.
She added: “This is shocking and saddening news. No patient should lose their her life in this way, waiting to be seen by a doctor. It appears that conditions at QEQM A&E have worsened to a degree where tragedies like this are able to happen. Something is dreadfully wrong in our NHS; we know that last year at William Harvey Hospital, paramedics were forced to keep emergency patients waiting in ambulances until the hospital could take them in.
“Every quarter of the NHS is saying that staffing problems need to be urgently addressed and that pressures on frontline staff are unacceptable. We must all ask why there isn’t a major national debate and in-depth parliamentary scrutiny happening right now to find solutions.”
“Local people are very upset about this news but are praising the frontline staff at the hospital.”
County councillor Karen Constantine has requested a meeting with hospital staff and will be asking South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay to accompany her.
She said: “My first thoughts are with the family and friends of the deceased. My sincere condolences to them.
“There are strict guidelines for the ‘handing over’ of patients. It should be undertaken as rapidly as possible. Ambulance staff have been placed in a terrible position, by being requested to fill in paperwork first, to avoid liability for Secamb. I have received reports today, of ambulances being ‘stacked up’ at QEQM waiting to get patients into the Hospital.
“We are not yet feeling the full impact of winter pressures. That could come soon and I fear our local NHS services could be overwhelmed. “