THE FAMILY of a Killinchy man, who spent 18 hours in an ambulance outside the A&E department at the Ulster Hospital, has said the ‘system is broken’.

Eighty year-old William ‘Gordy’ Morrow called for an ambulance on Sunday, December 6 after struggling to breathe.

An ambulance arrived within 15 minutes and the decision was made to bring Mr Morrow to hospital after an ECG result was concerning. He then spent 18 hours and 15 minutes in an ambulance before being admitted to hospital.

His experience is the latest from local pensioners who have been spending very long times waiting in ambulances outside the A&E department. Patients with relatively minor ailments and others with conditions such as a broken hip, are being forced to wait outside the hospital because of the pressure within.

Mr Morrow from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), has had a third of his lung removed, had a heart bypass and suffers from arthritis in every joint.

His daughter Diane McCready said she knew something was wrong when her dad agreed to go to hospital. 

“Daddy doesn’t have good health to begin with. COPD is not a curable disease and it just gradually gets worse, so when he gets a flare up, a cough or he’s getting a chest infection, he knows,” she explained.

“He does continuously cough everyday but if he starts coughing more or there is a change of colour in the sputum, he knows he’s getting a chest infection.

“On Sunday morning, [December 6], he rang me at 8.55am and said ‘you may come down’, he couldn’t get a breath. So I came down and set up his nebuliser, he took the nebuliser and he was ok for a wee bit, he then went up to the toilet and by the time he walked back he couldn’t breathe.

“I gave him a second nebuliser and it really didn’t help. We had a conversation about going to the hospital before this and he wasn’t going to the hospital and he ‘would see how he was on Monday’.

“It was just getting worse and I said I think you’re going to have to go to hospital and he said ‘I think you’re right’. I was going to take him to the hospital myself but he was just getting worse, I was starting to get frightened.”

Mr Morrow and Diane arrived at the Ulster Hospital via ambulance at 11.25am; at 8.15pm a new ambulance crew came to take over, and they were eventually admitted to A&E at 5.40am the following morning.

Ambulance staff resorted to taking blood samples to be tested to try and get answers while they waited to be admitted.

After finally being admitted, Mr Morrow was discharged again within four hours. However, Diane said his breathing still wasn’t back to normal but his heart rate was down. He contacted his GP the following weekend and was given further antibiotics and steroids as the infection still hadn’t cleared.

“He was frightened when he got out of hospital that his breathing still wasn’t right,” said Diane.

She added: “I just think that the length of time in the ambulance and to be taken in for four hours before being discharged, they were trying to push people out as quickly as they could.

“We can’t say enough good about the ambulance staff. One of them said to us that the ambulance service is just being used as a mobile waiting room, that they are pulling into the hospital and spending their whole shift sitting in an ambulance outside of an A&E.

“I just think the health service is completely on its knees, it’s a disgrace. It’s a lack of staff and a lack of direction. How has it got so bad?

“That A&E is absolutely horrendous and there was millions of pounds spent on that new department and now they have an A&E and a minor injuries [unit]. It was like a cattle market. Then you’ve all the ambulances sitting outside with people in them waiting to be admitted.”

Mr Morrow said the experience would make him ‘dubious’ about ringing again for help.

A spokesperson for the South Eastern Trust said long waiting times are regrettably being experienced across every Trust in the region and have been well documented over the Christmas and New Year period.

“This is not the service we want to be providing,” they said.

“Staff in our Emergency Department, who liaise very closely with our colleagues in NIAS, are working very hard to see patients as quickly as possible, according to clinical need.

“Patient safety remains our priority.”