St Leonards: Pensioner, 94, with suspected kidney failure forced to wait over 13 hours for ambulance to arrive

A great grandmother with suspected kidney failure was left waiting more than 13 hours for an ambulance after her family dialled 999.

Myrtle Hemsley, 94, from St Leonards, was vomiting and had dizziness and stomach pains, but her family were repeatedly told an ambulance would be on its way soon. The great grandmother, who has a pacemaker fitted, suffers from kidney problems and is almost blind, was deteriorating fast as she waited for paramedics to arrive at her flat in Sedlescombe Gardens, her family said.

Her daughter Jayne Whittaker phoned 999 at 6.30pm on October 26 and was told an ambulance would be sent soon. At 9pm, she rang 999 again and was told the ambulance service was busy, and paramedics would be with her as soon as possible. At 1am the next day, there was still no sign of an ambulance. Myrtle’s granddaughter Louise Lovatt, 38, arrived at the flat to take over, and dialled 999 at 2.20am. They were told again an ambulance would be with them soon.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

At 5.27am, Louise dialled 999 again and said Myrtle’s condition was getting worse. At 5.30am, patient services called them to get an update on Myrtle’s condition. Louise told them her grandmother was getting weaker, and she feared she was suffering from dehydration because she could not keep down any water. Patient services said they would upgrade her case. An ambulance finally arrived at the flat at 7.40am - more than 13 hours after they first dialled 999. The crew said they had been sent from Kent because the ambulance service in the Hastings area was so overstretched that night.

Myrtle Hemsley, also known as Babs, had to wait nearly 14 hours for an ambulance at her flat in St Leonards.

Myrtle’s granddaughter Andrea Lovatt, 47, told the Hastings Observer: “They were very apologetic and immediately gave her an ECG (an electrocardiogram) as they said these symptoms, whilst having a pacemaker, could be signs of cardiac illness. They said it was an utter disgrace that a 94-year-old woman was made to wait for almost 14 hours as sick as she was, and the health problems that she had.”

The crew took Myrtle to the Conquest Hospital in Hastings, where she was given fluids and kept in for a day so her condition could be monitored. Myrtle, who used to run an RAF club in Hastings with her late husband, and was a member of the Women’s Land Army in the Second World War, has now almost fully recovered, Andrea said. Myrtle, also known as Babs, has four children, nine grandchildren, and 13 great grandchildren.

Andrea added: “We are by no means criticising our wonderful NHS and we appreciate there is a pandemic, but this is absolutely not acceptable to be leaving a 94-year-old woman for almost 14 hours with the medical conditions she has.” She said as the family waited hour after hour for an ambulance to arrive, they had “numerous conversations about whether to take her to hospital ourselves, but she was too unwell and we were told that if we did we would have to take her to Eastbourne A&E department which is around a 40 minute drive. She was too unwell for this longer journey and we were hoping that an ambulance coming would result in her being seen much quicker than her sitting so unwell in A&E for hours on end.” Andrea has written to South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) to complain about Myrtle’s experience.

A spokesperson for SECAmb told the Hastings Observer: “We are very sorry to hear of Mrs Hemsley’s experience which is not acceptable and which we appreciate would have been extremely distressing for both her and her family. We continue to be very busy and our staff are working hard to respond to all patients as quickly as possible. We are very sorry that some patients are waiting far longer than they should for a response. Having been contacted by Ms Lovatt, we are looking into her concerns and will respond to her directly.”

According to SECAmb’s latest figures, the service answered around 89,000 emergency 999 calls across its region last month. This was over 20,000 more calls than in October 2020 or October 2019.