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Swaffham woman, 84, endured 'unacceptable wait' for hospital admission, family tells inquest

The family of an elderly woman who died in Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital has branded a three-hour wait for her to be admitted as "unacceptable."

An inquest into the death of Phyllis Gill has heard that changes are being made at the Gayton Road site to help cope with demand.

And a coroner has said the delay in treatment was a "minimal" factor in Mrs Gill's death.

Views of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Entrance to Accident and Emergency.. (19349652)
Views of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Entrance to Accident and Emergency.. (19349652)

Mrs Gill, who was 84 and lived in Swaffham, died in the QEH on June 20 this year, the day after emergency crews were called to her home following a fall.

Coroner Jacqueline Lake said Mrs Gill died of sepsis and aspiration pneumonia with type 2 diabetes, pressure ulcers and heart failure also contributing to her death

Once she arrived at the hospital, Mrs Gill was not admitted to its accident and emergency department for more than three hours as the hospital was at full capacity. Five patients were also waiting ahead of her, the hearing in Lynn last Friday was told.

The court heard 46 ambulance crews within the Trust were delayed in excess of 15 minutes on that day and Mrs Gill was regularly monitored during her wait.

Alex Foster, a student associate ambulance practitioner described Mrs Gill as being “fully alert and answering questions”with her oxygen levels at 96 per cent.

But Mrs Gill's family questioned whether the wait in admitting her had contributed to her death.

They said she was “uncomfortable and agitated” during this period, and required the ambulance door to be opened due to feeling claustrophobic.

A family statement, read out in court, said: “We all find it particularly distressing and totally unacceptable that a lady was left outside in an ambulance soiled and wet with a pressure sore for hours.”

Mrs Gill's son, Spencer, added: “This haunts me if more could have been done to make her more comfortable at the end point of her life.”

Dr Hiu Nam Tong, a medical practitioner at the QEH, acknowledged the wait was “not good for her dignity."

But he added: "She would not have recovered even if she had been brought in a couple of hours earlier.”

Dr Tong told the court improvements are being made to deal with demand at the hospital. This includes 330 extra members of ambulance staff by 2020 and a waiting area being transformed into three cubicles.

There are also further plans over the winter to redevelop the ambulance entrance to the hospital and to increase the size of the offloading area.

Dr Tong told the inquest these developments would be “piecemeal” due to the 1970s structure of the building, referring to pillars that cannot be moved and the hospital being a “corridor-style building”.

He added: “There are plans, which are waiting for capital funding, for the expansion of the department but that is years down the line and is not an immediate fix.

"At the moment we have three spaces/cubicles to offload patients, and with the work another four uploading spaces will be carried out over the winter. ”

The family also questioned why sepsis had not caused more alarm sooner given that Mrs Gill had received intensive care for the condition two-and-a-half-years-ago.

The inquest heard Mrs Gill was given antibiotics for sepsis from pneumonia before being transferred to the medical assessment unit.

Dr Tong said her condition deteriorated after that, adding: “The mortality associated with sepsis is worse if the person is old and frail. It is difficult to recover well from an episode of sepsis.”

Concluding that Mrs Gill died of natural causes, Mrs Lake said she was satisfied the sepsis issue was considered by paramedics.

She added: “The delay in transfer was distressing, undignified and uncomfortable, but I am satisfied it did not more than minimally cause her death.”

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