Terrified woman having heart attack called 999 but told ‘no ambulances available’

Dot Clarke recognised the signs of the heart attack thanks to her day job – but was left shocked and scared, asking the emergency call operator: “What am I supposed to do? Die?”

Dot Clarke was alone at home when the heart attack struck
Dot Clarke was alone at home when the heart attack struck

A nurse who recognised she was having a heart attack and quickly dialled 999 says she was left stunned and terrified when they told her no one could come to her.

Dot Clarke, 68, was alone at her home in Blackwood, Caerphilly, getting ready for her night shift, when she noticed a pain in her arm, WalesOnline reports.

The care home nurse quickly realised it was a symptom of a heart attack but claims when she called the Welsh Ambulance Service they said there was “no ambulances available”.

Dot, whose husband was out at work at the time, believes that if it wasn’t for her knowledge of the early signs of cardiac arrest due to her day job, she could be dead.

Speaking to WalesOnline she said: “First of all I felt like I had pulled a muscle in my arm, so I put some pain relief gel on,” she recalled.

Dot had to get a lift from her son to the Grange University Hospital instead


WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

“But then the pain went right down my arm and then I felt it down my neck and in my chest, and I realised what it was. It was excruciating. I’ve nursed coronary patients before but I never knew the pain was that bad.

“I rang 999 and told them ‘I’m a nurse, I know things are in a bad way, I know I’m having a heart attack’. The woman on the phone said ‘I’m sorry there are no ambulances available’.

“I said ‘what am I supposed to do, die? I’m on my own.’ I just couldn’t believe it.

“I know there are ambulances waiting in A&E car parks because there is nowhere else to go.

“I have residents in my care home waiting up to 10 hours for an ambulance – but I didn’t know it was anywhere near as bad as this.

“I know a heart attack is a category one priority.”

Instead of paramedics, Dot claims the operator advised her to ask for a lift to the hospital, prompting her to call her son – who had to drive over 13 miles from Deri before he could pick her up and take her to the Grange Hospital.

She said: “I had to ring my son who drove like a mad man from Deri and then drove me to the Grange, as we were advised.

“My son had nothing there if I had worsened in the car – there was no defibrillator.

“We got to A&E and swung into a space in front of the building, before a parking attendant came and told us to move the car.

“My son had to park further away from the building and wheel me in himself while I was doubled over in pain.”

Dot’s grandson says when his father and grandmother got to the Grange there “must have been 15 or 16 ambulances parked up outside” with patients waiting for treatment.

Earlier this week a spokesman for the Aneurin Bevan health board which covers Gwent said each hospital was under significant strain due to staff sickness.

“Like the rest of Wales and the UK, we are experiencing higher than normal staff sickness levels due to the rise in Covid-19 cases in the community,” they said.

Upon arriving inside the hospital, the delays to her care continued Dot claims.

She said: “It was an hour before I had an ECG and then a nurse came and told me I’d had a heart attack, which I already knew.

Dot says the ordeal has terrified her and believes if it wasn’t for her own knowledge, she could be dead


Jonathon Hill)

“We were then told the cardiac department at the Grange was only open Monday to Friday nine until five.

“An ambulance took me to the Heath for surgery. So within three hours from when I got to the Grange I was finally where I needed to be.

“They wheeled me straight into theatre at the Heath and I had a stent put in. I can’t fault the team at the Heath, they were excellent.”

Dot was discharged before Christmas and is now recovering at home while she awaits a bypass surgery

Reflecting on her ordeal, Dot added: “If my son hadn’t raced to me and took me to hospital I’d have been dead.

“While we were on our way to the Heath at 10pm – four hours after I called – the ambulance service rang to say they’d arrived at my house. I’m sure I’d have been gone by then.

“I’m so worried about others who didn’t have that early knowledge that I did about cardiac.”

Jon Edwards, the Welsh Ambulance Service’s Assistant Director of Operations said Dot’s experience was a “reflection of extreme pressures” facing the service.

“We are truly sorry to hear about Mrs Clarke’s experience, which is absolutely not the service we want to provide for patients, let alone high priority patients,” he said.

“Mrs Clarke’s experience is a reflection of the extreme pressures across the entire urgent and emergency care system in recent weeks.

Now she is recovering at home and awaiting surgery


Jonathon Hill)

“Issues elsewhere in NHS Wales – like delayed discharges, which lengthen ambulance waits at the ‘front door’ of the Emergency Department – have a direct consequence for us because fewer ambulances are available to respond to patients in the community.

“Coupled with staff absence exacerbated by Covid-19 and a higher volume of calls, our ability to get to patients quickly has been significantly hampered.

“It’s as frustrating for crews as it is for patients, and we understand how distressing this would have been for Mrs Clarke and her loved ones.

“At times when demand outstrips the available supply of ambulances and lengthy response delays occur it may be better, balancing all the risks, for the patient to make their own way to the emergency department if they are able.

“We would invite Mrs Clarke to contact us directly so that we can better understand her concerns and establish a full sequence of events, but in the meantime hope that she is making a continued good recovery.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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