A WOMAN who died of an overdose is unlikely to have survived even without a 90-minute delay for an ambulance, an inquest was told.

Family and friends of 41-year-old Karen Watkins waited in vain for an ambulance after she took an overdose of a drug prescribed for depression, at the Unicorn pub, Cwmynyscoy, Pontypool, on February 17 last year.

Eventually, her condition deteriorating, two police officers took her to the Royal Gwent Hospital in a patrol car, but she died later that day.

After the initial 999 call, made by Mrs Watkins' friend Geraldine Jones shortly before 11.30am, two further calls were made, family members insisting at the inquest, that they were told an ambulance was on its way.

Her mother Jean Thomas told David Bowen, senior coroner for Gwent, that her husband had inquired about an ambulance some time after Mrs Jones made the first 999 call, and had been told one was on its way.

When Mr and Mrs Thomas had arrived at the pub there was an ambulance in the street, attending another patient with suspected chest pains.

The crew were asked if they could attend Mrs Watkins but as they were already on a call, they could not.

PC Joseph Little arrived at around 12.30pm, Mrs Watkins by now disorientated and mumbling, and her condition deteriorating. When a fellow officer was told there was no ambulance available, they decided to take her to hospital themselves.

Mike Protheroe, Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust utilisation manager, said that based on information from the first call, it was categorised as Green 1 (response within 30 minutes).

That day, he said, there had been "extremely high" calls demand throughout South East Wales, with ambulances delayed at hospitals.

He confirmed that each subsequent call asking about an ambulance for Mrs Watkins received Green 1 status, but his internal review concluded that at the third call, this should have been changed to the more serious Red 2 category.

Asked by Mr Bowen why the family were repeatedly told an ambulance was on its way, Mr Protheroe said the normal call response should be that help is being arranged.

It is not for the call taker to say an ambulance is on its way, he said, as they do not make dispatch decisions.

He said clinicians now based in the contact centre become involved earlier where necessary, phoning callers back for more information.

A post mortem examination concluded that Mrs Watkins died from an overdose of venlafaxine, with a 47.7 per cent concentration of it in her blood. Previous deaths had occurred at a greater than four per cent level.

There is no antidote, and pharmacology and toxicology expert Dr James Coulson reported that Mrs Watkins had a "significant" amount in her system, and on the balance of probabilities, it was unlikely the ambulance delay affected her chance of survival.

Mrs Thomas said her daughter "should have been taken to hospital with dignity."

"She may have had a chance. People do survive against the odds," she said.

Mrs Watkins, who left notes at the scene, had a history of alcohol problems and depression, and had taken overdoses previously.

A verdict of suicide was recorded.