St Albans couple caught up in NHS crisis: ‘Watford A&E like a war zone’

Watford General Hospital

Watford General Hospital - Credit: Archant

The pressure under which local health services are operating was experienced first hand by a husband and wife when she suffered a serious heart problem earlier this month.

The St Albans couple, who do not wish to be named, had to call for help when the wife fell ill on January 2 with what was thought to be a heart attack.

A paramedic came out within minutes of her husband’s call and his wife’s ECG reading indicated abnormalities. But although an emergency ambulance was called, it had not arrived after two hours so the paramedic took her to Watford General Hospital in his car.

When they arrived they found no fewer than 14 ambulances waiting outside the A&E department - and inside there were many more patients on trolleys waiting to be seen.

The husband described the scene as ‘like a war zone’ and said that was just in the section for ambulance arrivals. “There was barely room to manoeuvre all the trolleys,’ he went on.

After queuing for two hours at the triage point - where the condition of patients is assessed - the A&E doctor was pretty sure she was suffering a heart attack and she was immediately placed in resuscitation.

From there she was quickly transferred by ambulance to the Harefield Hospital Specialist Acute Cardiac Centre where, according to the couple, the treatment was ‘world class’.

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The ambulance crew phoned ahead and a doctor was waiting outside the main entrance to receive the patient. Her husband said: “She was immediately assessed by a team of eight medics. ECGs, echocaardiogram scans, X-rays and blood speciments were taken within 30 minutes of her arrival.”

His wife had actually suffered an infection, believed to be viral, which had led to a build up of fluid and was constricting her heart and stopping it pumping effectively.

The medical intervention at Harefield prevented her potentially life-threatening condition developing and after several days in hospital she was allowed home.

Her husband said: “Without exception, all the doctors, nurses, paramedics and ambulance personnel were kind and caring and doing their very best to cope under intense pressure. Equally, all the patients were stoical and patient.”

But he pointed out that there were ‘significant and systemic problems’ with 14 ambulances tied up at A&E meaning there were few available to answer emergency calls and the serious delay at the triage point which was meant to prioritise treatment.

He described the reactive part of the NHS in West Hertfordshire as being overstretched in a way that was unfair on staff who faced relentlessly intense pressure, and potentially dangerous to patients.

The West Herts Hospitals Trust, which runs Watford General Hospital, had not come back with a comment by the time the Herts Advertiser went to press.