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TWENTY people died waiting for an ambulance over the Christmas period while a “critically overstretched” trust failed to decide whether to declare a state of emergency, Labour MP Clive Lewis revealed today.
Using parliamentary privilege in the Commons chamber, the Norwich South MP said one of his constituents had blown the whistle on the East of England Ambulance Service trust.
He said: “It has been put to me that the service became critically overstretched due to high demand on December 19, and at that point senior operational managers wanted to move to Reap 4, the highest state of emergency, and seek mutual aid, most likely from the armed forces.
“But that decision was not taken until December 31, some 12 days later, and even then aid was not requested.”
Over those 12 days, 20 people died in incidents where ambulances arrived late, he revealed.
The grave mistake follows the death of a woman in Clacton, Essex, on January 1, after she waited nearly four hours for an East of England ambulance to arrive.
Tory MP for Clacton Giles Watling has called for a public inquiry into the death, while Mr Lewis told the Commons today that he is urgently seeking answers from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Mr Lewis said that if the allegations were true, they raise “serious questions for the both the trust, and the government, as to why Reap 4 was not declared and no aid sought, what potentially avoidable deaths resulted from those decisions, and above all how we avoid that ever happening again?”
The trust said it had responded to more than 50,000 patients since Christmas, and says that less than 0.2 per cent “experienced a significant delay.”
But paramedics’ union Unison eastern regional secretary Chris Jenkinson said: “Twenty grieving families will now, quite rightly, be demanding answers.
“They’ll want to know whether their loved ones might still be alive had it not been for the huge delays in ambulances arriving.
“And ambulance crews across the region, whose job it is to save lives, will want reassurances that the service they work for is still able to keep the public safe.”
He said that as neighbouring services would have been unable to help, army ambulances would have had to step in leaving “the public in no doubt as to the depth of the winter crisis affecting the NHS.”
The union is calling for an independent inquiry to establish what went wrong, and whether the deaths could have been avoided.
And fellow union GMB’s Kevin Brandstatter said the extra strain on the service “should have been foreseen and planned for.
"But this government is cutting NHS funding to the bone — and now people are dying as a result."
A spokesperson for the trust said: “We recognise that some people experienced a delay in their care over the festive period and we, along with the wider healthcare system, experienced significant pressure.
“We always monitor our demand and capacity and take necessary actions to protect patients, working closely with NHS Improvement and NHS England. The trust has a robust internal process and we are investigating appropriately.”
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