Pensioner who 'could not breathe' dies three hours after calling for ambulance that was never dispatched

17 February 2024, 22:25

File image of an ambulance vehicle from East Midlands Ambulance Service
File image of an ambulance vehicle from East Midlands Ambulance Service. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

A pensioner has died three hours after calling for an ambulance that was never dispatched - despite telling the 999 operator she was struggling to breathe.

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Janet Lyon, 67, was trying to get through to her GP surgery after paramedics failed to show up on December 27

The grandmother from Leicestershire was earlier told by the 999 operator that her issue was not life-threatening and told her to contact her GP walk-in centre.

East Midlands Ambulance Service said it investigated the call and said it was handled appropriately, but apologised.

The ambulance service said it was experiencing "high demand" at the time of Ms Lyon's call.

File image of NHS Ambulance station with fleet of ambulances
File image of NHS Ambulance station with fleet of ambulances. Picture: Alamy

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Katie Keating, Ms Lyon's daughter, told the BBC she was "enraged" by the ambulance services' response and added that she had submitted a formal complaint.

"I am totally flabbergasted they have not admitted responsibility."

"That was a completely preventable death. She was not given a chance to have any treatment."

According to Ms Lyon's death certificate, she died from pneumonia.

The daughter, from Nottingham, said her mother's lungs were "full of fluid" when she "inwardly drowned" after not being able to breathe.

The pensioner - who had type 2 diabetes and asthma - walked into her son's bedroom on Boxing Day saying she could not breathe and that she needed an ambulance. Her son called 999 just after 5am, Ms Keating said.

Ms Lyon died three hours later with her phone in hand after trying to get seen by her GP.

Ms Keating said her son would have taken her to A&E if the 999 operator had told her to go there.

"The only thing that would have helped was medical intervention," Ms Keating said. "They should have sent an ambulance - she needed oxygen."

In a letter to the family of Ms Lyon, East Midlands Ambulance Service said: "From the information provided during the call, the situation was correctly coded by the EMA [Emergency Medical Advisor] as requiring a category 3 response."

It said it aims to respond to emergency call-outs of this nature within two hours in 90 per cent of these cases.

"At the time of the 999 call our service was experiencing a high demand for emergency responses.

"The caller was correctly advised, via a pre-determined script, that from the information gathered this was not an immediate life-threatening emergency and we would not be sending an emergency ambulance."

East Midlands Ambulance Service said Ms Lyon was advised to go to her local walk-in or urgent care centre or contact her GP. The service told her to call 999 again only if her symptoms worsened or changed.

It said the 999 call was audited and established that the outcome reached was "safe and appropriate".

The service apologised for the distress caused or the advice warning that an ambulance would not be dispatched to Ms Lyon.

It said the second call at 08:23am saying Ms Lyon was not breathing was classed as "category 1" and medics were at the house in two minutes.

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