A 91-YEAR-OLD heart attack patient was forced to spend eight hours "slumped" in an ambulance while waiting for a hospital bed.

Elizabeth Davies, from Cwmbran, was taken to hospital shortly after 9am last Friday, but when her daughter called her mobile seven hours later, she was shocked to hear a paramedic's voice on the other end of the line.

"He said she was still in the ambulance," daughter Pat Passaro said. "She was a 91-year-old who'd had a suspected heart attack."

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board has apologised for Mrs Davies' experience, and said wider pressures including the pandemic and staff shortages were "preventing the flow of patients through our hospitals".

The Welsh Ambulance Service said it was "essential" for its vehicles to be responding to incidents in the community, "so it’s not helpful when crews spend many, many hours outside emergency departments before their patients are taken into the hospital".

Since opening in late 2020, the Grange University Hospital has been criticised repeatedly by patients and their relatives over long delays at the front door. Just this week, the health board urged people to "think carefully" before attending the Grange because of "unprecedented demand" on services.

Mrs Davies' experience is the latest in a string of complaints about waiting times at the hospital - including an 86-year-old man with Alzheimer's who waited 13 hours outside the Grange after falling at his care home, and an 84-year-old woman who spent 24 hours in ambulances outside the hospital after suffering a head injury.

'Why are they in this plight?'

In Mrs Davies' case, daughter Mrs Passaro said she was "appalled" to arrive at the Grange - which houses Gwent's only accident and emergency (A&E) department - and find a queue of "around 10" ambulances outside, containing patients who were waiting to be admitted.

Her mother, who had already received a triple bypass after a previous heart attack, appeared "frail" and "totally stressed", and had only left the ambulance for several trips to the toilet, being wheeled in and out by paramedics in the "freezing cold".

When she asked A&E staff why there was such a long delay, Mrs Passaro told the Argus the reply was "we don't have any beds".

Mrs Davies was eventually admitted to a ward, where doctors confirmed she'd had a heart attack. She spent several days at the Grange and is now recovering, but continues to suffer back pain after her long wait in the ambulance.

"My mum came out of there OK, but it could have been very different," her daughter said. "This is not to knock the care professionals; they did a fabulous job.

"All credit to them but why are they in this plight?"

Queues of parked ambulances outside the Grange mean those vehicles cannot be sent to other emergencies. This is at a time when the Welsh Ambulance Service remains under extreme pressure, with record-high callouts reported in recent months; and amid proposals to cut the number of vehicles at ambulance stations in some Gwent towns.

Frustrations over Mrs Davies' experience were capped by the feeling such scenes - of queuing ambulances and long delays at A&E - were nothing new. "It happens every day" is what one staff member reportedly remarked to her daughter.

What did the health board say?

"We’re very sorry that Ms Davies experienced such a long wait for a hospital bed - this is not the level of care that we aim to provide to our patients," a spokesperson for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said.

"As in other areas of Wales and the UK, the knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and staff shortages across health and social care are preventing the flow of patients through our hospitals, which results in longer waiting times in our emergency department.

"When patients arrive at [A&E], they are initially assessed by a nurse and their care is prioritised according to the seriousness of their condition. All patients requiring life-saving treatment are brought straight into our resuscitation department without delay.

"Though national Covid-19 restrictions may have eased, we must still maintain strict Covid-19 infection control measures within our hospitals to protect our vulnerable patients, which also impacts on how effectively we are able to operate.

"We continue to work with our colleagues in the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust to ensure the timely transfer of patients into our care, and to release ambulance crews as swiftly as possible so that they can respond to emergency calls in our communities.

"We are also working very closely with our colleagues in social care to support patients who are currently in our hospitals, but fit for discharge, to allow them to be sent home safely with additional support in place.

"We would like to thank our staff for their hard work in such challenging circumstances, and our patients for their co-operation and understanding at this time."

What did the ambulance service say?

"Despite ongoing efforts over the years, hospital handover delays remain a serious and long-standing issue," Lee Brooks, the director of operations at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said.

"As an emergency ambulance service we deliver immediate and life-saving interventions, and when it is needed, take patients promptly to hospital for treatment.

"Being available in the community to respond to people is therefore essential, so it’s not helpful when crews spend many, many hours outside emergency departments before their patients are taken into the hospital.

"For the Welsh Ambulance Service, this is about getting to the root cause of complex systemic issues in order to resolve them, rather than adapting to a situation so that it becomes the new normal.

"As we hopefully move toward living with Covid, we will continue to work with a range of colleagues to make improvements and effect change, inclusive of the services that we provide."