Concerns over ambulance cover in rural Northumberland

Jack Penman, from Norham, near Berwick, was forced to wait an hour and 10 minutes for the vehicle to come 40 miles from Amble, despite fears he had meningitis

Sheila Penman with her son Jack
Sheila Penman with her son Jack

A boy with suspected meningitis had to wait over an hour for an ambulance, due to lack of an available vehicle at his nearest station.

Jack Penman, 10, from Norham, near Berwick in Northumberland, was forced to wait an hour and 10 minutes for the vehicle to come 40 miles from Amble, despite fears he had the potentially fatal disease and there being an ambulance station eight miles away at Berwick.

His case is one of a number recent incidents in the Berwick area which have sparked concerns over the level of cover, with a would-be MP writing to ambulance service bosses demanding answers.

They last night admitted the response times in three cases “fell short of what we would normally aim to achieve” and promised to investigate.

Jack took ill on January 29. He had been sick, had a high temperature, was hallucinating, complaining about light and could not recognise his mother Sheila.

Mrs Penman, 29, rang NHS Direct at 7.10pm and was told an ambulance would be sent immediately to take Jack to hospital as they believed he may have meningitis.

However, it was 8.20pm before the ambulance arrived, with the crew telling Mrs Penman they had come from Amble.

She said: “I think it is disgraceful, especially when they tell you on the phone it is coming straight away. What if he had got worse?”

The Journal has learnt of two other recent similar incidents in the Berwick area.

The first saw Maureen Cardella, 57, of Norham, attend Berwick Infirmary on February 14 at around 10.30am after suffering severe pain and loss of feeling in her upper leg, having been unable to secure a doctor’s appointment.

Infirmary staff called for a doctor to attend and assess her. He advised at around 11.30am that Ms Cardella, who has a history of heart disease and has had cardiac arrests, should be taken to Wansbeck General Hospital at Ashington by ambulance urgently.

However, Ms Cardella claims it was around 3pm before the ambulance arrived, with her later told it came from Morpeth.

She said: “When it comes to this, something needs to be done.”

In the third case, housewife Sianne Lee, 26, from Goldstone, Tweedmouth, Berwick, gave birth to son Tate at Berwick Infirmary’s maternity unit on February 25.

However, she then suffered three bleeds and fainted, prompting midwives to request an ambulance to take her to Wansbeck into the hands of consultants there.

Yet the ambulance took 50 minutes, having come from Wansbeck. A community paramedic from Wooler called after it was discovered there was no vehicle closer able to attend arrived before the crew.

Mrs Penman’s mother got in touch with Conservative parliament candidate for Berwick Anne Marie Trevelyan, who has taken their case up with the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS).

In a letter to NEAS, Mrs Trevelyan wrote: “This very extensive delay is of course most concerning, and I would be most grateful if you could find out for me and the family why such a long wait was necessary.

“The key issues which concern me are why there was no other ambulance in the area since we have a commitment that there will always be one full-time ambulance in Berwick, and therefore if that one is on call, the rotation system which you manage should have sent another northwards immediately. I do hope that this will not raise the spectre of lack of ambulance provision in the North of the county.”

A spokesperson for NEAS said: “In each of these cases, our response times fell short of what we would normally aim to achieve.

“Two of the patients referred to were in hospital environments, with clinicians present. We will be looking into each of the instances brought to our attention, and be contacting the patients directly.”

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