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Video: GPs calling ambulance told to wait until ‘patient stops breathing’

Video: GPs calling ambulance told to wait until ‘patient stops breathing’

GPs are being forced to take patients to hospital themselves after ‘pleading’ with 999 call handlers to send an ambulance, according to one practice.

Wilmslow Health Centre said ambulance control staff have sometimes told them to call back ‘when the patient stops breathing’.

In a video posted to X and shared with Pulse, GPs at the practice are shown taking the ‘difficult decision’ to transport a patient to hospital who was ‘rapidly deteriorating’ and had been waiting for three hours for an ambulance to arrive.

Filmed and edited by Wilmslow Health Centre staff

GP partner Dr Amar Ahmed told Pulse he has taken patients to hospital himself twice due to ambulance delays, and he has heard of other colleagues ‘waiting, running out of oxygen and pleading with the ambulance control to send an ambulance’.

He suggested that calls from GP surgeries are ‘deprioritised’ because patients are supported by trained medical professionals and it is designated a ‘place of safety’.

‘It’s their desperate form of rationing and triaging. What they don’t realise is that we don’t call ambulances for nothing. We’re highly trained, we’ve done A&E, we’ve done all of the hospital jobs. We know when to call an ambulance. So when we call an ambulance we don’t do it in vain, for small matters – we mean it. In fact what they should be doing is giving us priority,’ Dr Ahmed said.

Four years ago, Pulse revealed that patients who need an ambulance at a GP surgery are routinely facing waits twice as long as patients who call 999 from elsewhere, and local GP leaders demanded an end to delayed responses to GP practices.

Dr Ahmed also told Pulse there is a ‘knock-on effect’ for the whole GP practice as a result of ambulance delays.

‘What they also don’t realise is that it’s prolonging the wait times for GP surgeries, our oxygen’s running out, we’re being taken away from our normal lists and you’ve got a lot of other work to do – some of us are staying on after the shift.’

But he highlighted that this is ‘not the ambulance service’s fault’ but rather a ‘symptom of the whole system imploding’.

The North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) told Pulse that calls are prioritised solely on the seriousness of the patient’s condition rather than whether they originate from a GP practice.

A spokesperson for NWAS said: ‘We are sorry that we haven’t been able to get to the gentleman as quickly as we would have liked. The NHS is experiencing a significant spike in demand, leading to delays for some patients, but our staff are trying their best to get those who need us as quickly as possible.

‘We continue to work closely with our hospital partners to speed up the handover of patients and allow crews to respond to others who need help in the community.’

Earlier this month, Pulse reported on ambulance delays in Wales where GPs were being forced to leave their clinic to attend emergencies.

There were similar reports of GPs attending emergency situations in Wales four years ago, with Welsh LMCs calling on the BMA to remind services that GPs are not a replacement for a ‘faltering ambulance service’.

Last year, NHS England was reportedly planning for more ambulance crews to to redirect some calls to GP surgeries.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Sam Macphie 25 January, 2024 1:20 pm

It is absolutely ridiculous that this good doctor Dr Amar Ahmed who is trained to know when to call for an ambulance in an absolute emergency is, perversely, made to wait hours, risking patient death or brain damage. This the outcome of Tory Government cutbacks and austerity on steroids. Also it is as though various groups including those in charge of ambulance services ( NWAS ) (and others of course ) and NHSE (CE Mandy Preachhard) have no true idea of the tight scheduling of a GP’s working day and the devastating knock-on effects on the GPs and surgery workforce and other, often extremely urgent, patients waiting in line to be attended to. This is no accident that Dr Ahmed had to drive patients twice to hospital himself; this is truly perverse, risky and time-consuming for hard-working GPs like him, and certainly this will be happening for GPs up and down Britain many times over. GP surgeries need to be prioritised, ( absolutely not deprioritised: like they have been for over a decade and seems to be getting worse ). When a patient stops breathing, a lot of the time they are dead by then. Rashy Sanuk ( PM, just for the time being ) and Health Secretary, Victoria Atkins, Conservative Government need to be voted out this year. Definitely. Sounds like Dr Ahmed’s actions have been heroic in such dire circumstances at Wilmslow Health Centre. Well done.

they re dead by then.

Iain Chalmers 25 January, 2024 6:59 pm

Nearly as good Covid +ve patient at our Hospice (Respect says accepts admission for reversible causes) deemed suitable for A/E assessment by 2 MD, A/E Consultant & Med Reg was initially refused ambulance by F2F Paramedics. 13 hours in A/E & no treatment. Antivirals organised by alternative method & patient currently on home leave.

Some Bloke 25 January, 2024 8:28 pm

For anyone newly qualified or getting there – if they sound breathless on the phone, tell them to make way to AE, don’t drive (in fact it’s that when you say that they are not allowed to drive on medical advice, invalidates their insurance, get another transport or call 999, and if GP calls- it will take much longer). Saying these things clearly saves lives – patients who move on to AE and the ones you are able to see instead of pretending to be a paramedic.

nasir hannan 26 January, 2024 9:12 am

if we are unable to arrange for rapid transfer to hospital for sick and vulnerable patients, then General practice no longer becomes a safe place for assessment of the medically unwell patient. General Practice needs to carry out a complete review of our protocols and processes and if there are any potentially medically sick patients, they should be directly advised to attend ED on patient safety grounds. we should consider as a profession whether we immediately stop same day appointments in general practice until safe transfer can be established.

J Landen 29 January, 2024 9:29 am

This is a triage issue for reception with acute on the day emergency care-this is ED not GP. From my experience 111 use the paramedic route far too often as a knee jerk reaction which blocks the service as much as delays at handover in ED.