This woman’s operations have been delayed by the pandemic
The 77-year-old woman has been left in tears with anxiety as ambulance service transportation has been hit-or-miss throughout this year, her family claims. She has been waiting for two knee replacement operations since before the pandemic, delayed by lockdowns which have caused her condition to deteriorate.
Her son estimates at least 20 appointments have been missed as the unreliable transportation has persisted.
The son told Manchester Evening News: “There have been 20 plus appointments missed because of this, and plenty of tearful phone calls from mum.
“I dread to think about the money [the NHS] would be saving by actually getting people to their appointments, because it won’t be just my mum who is dealing with this.”
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, became more immobile as the condition of her knees deteriorated. She then gained weight as a result.
Reliant on ambulance transport to her hospital appointments, paramedics have arrived at her home in Sale, Greater Manchester, and have no problem helping her into an ambulance, according to the distraught family.
On the majority of occasions, however, ambulance staff have been “unable to help get her down the stairs” – despite the patient’s elderly husband frequently having to transfer his wife onto a wheeled commode chair, then onto their stair lift, and again to her wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs.
The woman has become immobile as the condition of her knees has deteriorated
Ahead of one appointment, an NWAS staff member who arrived to transport the woman told her she was ‘too fat’, giving her weight as the reason they were unable to assist her, alleges the 77-year-old.
The woman weighs 16 stone, striking both her and her family as ‘not too heavy’ considering the medical setting in which she is seeking help.
After complaining to the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) about the treatment, staff have been out to the home to do a risk assessment and have recommended that she take out her stair lift and move onto the ground floor so paramedics can more easily get to her.
There is ‘not enough room to sleep downstairs’, leaving her struggling to carry out day-to-day tasks like washing her hair.
The home assessment is too little, too late, according to the woman and her frustrated family.
Moving the patient to the ground floor of her home has caused upheaval in the family’s lives
The mum said: “The ambulance service has kept sending the wrong kind of crews or the wrong kind of vehicles, even though they had my details.
“Some crews say it’s not safe to transfer me, but others have transferred me no problem and have been absolutely fantastic.
“They would turn up and say ‘we can’t take you, we’ll get another crew out’, but they can’t because all the other crews are fully booked.
“Sometimes they have not brought the right van – they once brought a minivan that was too small and the seats didn’t fold down so I couldn’t fit in with my wheelchair.
“One crew told me I would need a bariatric team, another crew on a different day told me that transferring me wouldn’t be an issue because they had just come from moving a 36 stone woman and that it ‘was part of their job’.
“Because of this, I’ve missed all these important appointments at the hospital. It’s very confusing, frustrating, and annoying.”
The elderly mum is increasingly anxious
Now, the patient claims her treatment has been so delayed by the Covid lockdowns and the missed appointments in the year since, consultants say they cannot replace one of her knees because her condition is too poor.
Instead, they will have to fit her leg with a steel rod, meaning she will lose movement on that side.
“I’ve been told by doctors that I need this different surgery because of the missed appointments,” she continued.
“I’ve definitely noticed a difference in my condition, I could have been a lot further along by now if I hadn’t missed these appointments.
“I’ve been waiting for these operations for two years – through two lockdowns, and then through these problems with the ambulance service, which started around the time the last lockdown ended.
“In August, my consultant told me that my cracked bone had started to heal in the position it was in, and that I would have to be transferred from Trafford General Hospital to Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh because it would require a complicated biopsy done by a specialist there.”
After formally complaining, the family says the elderly couple have been forced to change their house to move her downstairs.
The mother added: “In October, the ambulance service sent out a safety officer to check the house and he said it’s not safe for me or them to transfer me from the commode to the stair lift.
“They recommended that I take the stair lift out or that I could move downstairs. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to take me – even though they have managed it before.
“So my husband has had to go out and buy a bed to fit downstairs, it’s completely disrupted my life. We’ve had to tip up the settee, put the dining room chairs on the table.
“Have you ever tried to wash your hair in a bowl at the side of a bed in your living room? It’s like being back in the 1950s, it’s just ridiculous.”
NHS: Woman reveals how 85-year-old mother waited hours
The woman’s frustrated son lives in Northumberland. The inability to help his mother get to the hospital on a regular basis has left him at a loss, too.
Among the ’20 plus appointments’ missed, the latest include appointments on August 20, September 10 and 30, October 1 and 7.
Once his mother’s leg is fitted with a steel rod, they may have to sell their family home for a bungalow to help her get around, he says.
“There have been 20 plus appointments missed because of this, and plenty of tearful phone calls from mum,” says the patient’s worried son.
“At first, it seemed fairly easy. My mother would ring up and book a collection. The ambulance would show up and away she went.
“But the more bed bound she has become, the more hit-or-miss on whether they say they can take her. Some crews have been great, others have flat out refused to take her.
“I formally complained to NWAS on August 11, since then she has had three or four more missed appointments to do with her knees.
“Each missed appointment has a knock on effect, it delays her treatment and has an impact on her own personal well being as she’s stuck in one room, unable to do anything.
“Before Covid, she was mobile enough. Now, she’s in an increasing amount of pain and she’s increasingly anxious about ringing the ambulance service in case they turn up and won’t take her.”
The North West Ambulance Service has confirmed that an assessment has now been done on the patient’s home.
In a letter to the family, seen by the M.E.N., trust bosses say the assessor felt staff should never have been transferring the woman from her bedroom upstairs to the ambulance, due to the layout of her home and her limited mobility.
The process was retrospectively judged to be ‘unsafe’ by the assessor, and without a relocation of the patient to the ground floor, the ambulance service would be unable to help her in future.
“We apologise to[the patient] and her son for their previous experience and the extended wait while we completed our investigation,” said a spokesperson for the service.
“However, our most recent risk assessment found that due to [the patient’s] limited mobility, which also varied, completing the journey down the stairs was hazardous both to her and our staff.
“As a result, we have informed them that we would no longer be able to undertake future journeys unless she relocated to the ground floor.
“We would very much like to assist the family as much as we can and continue to offer our support to resolve future problems.”
After almost a year of missed appointments, emotional moments, and fraught back-and-forths with the ambulance service, the family have been left doubtful of the NHS.
“There’s people who won’t hear anything bad about the NHS but the organisation seems to be filled with bureaucracy put in place to spend money,” says the patient’s son.
“Our experience has shown a complete wastage of vital resources because the consultants are left with empty slots. I dread to think about the money they’d be saving by actually getting people to their appointments, because it won’t be just my mum who is dealing with this.
“I see people campaigning for more money for the NHS, and some staff members work really hard to pull out all the stops.
“But it’s hard to comprehend that it needs more money when I see so much of it being wasted with this bureaucratic confusion that is taking months to solve.
“It doesn’t need more funding, the service needs better management and it needs to get the shop in order. It feels like a complete black hole of money with no effort to change things, as this situation has just been allowed to carry on despite us complaining.
“It feels like we’ve been banging our heads against a brick wall for almost a year.”