County Durham paramedic told to wait 90 minutes for ambulance

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A FORMER paramedic whose wife was suffering a heart attack and subsequently died was told by a 999 call handler it could be 90 minutes before an ambulance could reach her.

Nigel Mitchell, who has campaigned for better ambulance services in rural County Durham, has spoken of his anger after losing Gill, his wife of 43 years.

Mr Mitchell, who served with North East Ambulance Service for 32 years, said he told the emergency services it was a ‘category one’ call, the most serious, and help should have arrived within eight minutes.

But despite Mr Mitchell stressing the urgency, he said he was told it would be around an hour-and-half before an ambulance could reach them.

The Northern Echo: Mr Mitchell has campaigned to improve ambulance services in rural County Durham for decades. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTMr Mitchell has campaigned to improve ambulance services in rural County Durham for decades. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Mr Mitchell said: “She was rubbing her chest, and was cold, clammy and sweating. I knew straight away what was happening. She looked straight through me and collapsed.

“I laid her on the floor in the recovery position.”

With time running out, Mr Mitchell got his wife in the car and drove from their farm, on the outskirts of Middleton-in-Teesdale, to their hardware shop in the village where there is a defibrillator.

The Northern Echo: Nigel Mitchell, second from right, in 2013, with Gary Hutchinson, whose life was saved by one of the defibrillators. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO Nigel Mitchell, second from right, in 2013, with Gary Hutchinson, whose life was saved by one of the defibrillators. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO

Poignantly, it was Mr Mitchell who fundraised to have seven of the life-saving devices installed in the Dales area following the death of his brother, Stephen, in 2010.

He said: “By the time we had got the defib she had stopped breathing.

“I was with my son, Ross, and we had to get her out of the back of the car because you can’t do CPR and mouth-to-mouth in the back of the car.

“She was on the pavement and a passer-by who was on holiday from either Belgium or Germany stopped to help.

“He was doing CPR and I got the defib and shocked Gill five or six times while other people were calling the ambulance again.

“It took about 45 minutes for them to get to us.”

When help arrived, Mr Mitchell said there four ambulance and a helicopter, which airlifted Mrs Mitchell to James Cook Memorial Hospital in Middlesbrough.

By the time Mr Mitchell arrived on Teesside his wife was dead.

He said: “I am not saying that the outcome would have been any different but if they had an ambulance in Middleton, or Barnard Castle, at least we would have known that she had the best possible chance.

“I have been fighting for rural ambulance cover all of my career.

“It is not getting any better, it is just getting worse. I am hoping by raising this someone else might not have go through what we have.”

The Northern Echo: Nigel Middleton with his wife Gill. Picture: CONTRIBUTOR Nigel Middleton with his wife Gill. Picture: CONTRIBUTOR

Mr Mitchell, who is the guardian of the seven defibrillators, retired in 2013 and was the team leader at the Barnard Castle ambulance station.

He has referred the matter to Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison, who raised it in Parliament earlier this week after reports from a NEAS whistle-blower there could be as many as 90 cases where paramedics have ‘covered up’ medical failings in official reports.

Ms Davison said: “As a retired paramedic, he knows the importance of timely care for cardiac arrest victims, so it is shameful the wait for an ambulance was 90 minutes long, and even more shameful that multiple ambulances then arrived on the scene, potentially preventing others from receiving the urgent care they needed.

“My thoughts go out to Mr Mitchell and his family on their loss, and Mr Mitchell should be commended on his tireless campaigning for change at NEAS to help save lives.”

Read more: Substation was cause of Northern Powergrid failure in County Durham

Mr Mitchell, who has three children, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren, said his wife, who was 63, Mrs Mitchell took ill at around teatime on October 9.

He has now submitted a formal complain to NEAS and is considering taking the matter further.

The Northern Echo: Dr Mathew Beattie. Picture: NEASDr Mathew Beattie. Picture: NEAS

NEAS medical director, Dr Mathew Beattie, said: “On behalf of the organisation, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to Mr Mitchell and his family for their loss and would like to apologise for the distress caused by our response.

“Unfortunately, we’re unable to discuss any patient care publicly.

“However, we can confirm that on that day the service was under significant pressure.

“We have now been contacted by Mr Mitchell to formally raise his concerns.

“We will now undertake an investigation and provide him with a detailed response.”

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