An Inquest has heard that a critically ill, three month old baby girl, Bella Hastings, died after a series of errors by ambulance crews in East Anglia caused delays in transferring her to hospital.
Bella stopped breathing after suffering a fit at her home in Thetford, Norfolk on 3 March. Her family called the emergency services but paramedics took 26 minutes to reach her, more than three times longer than the eight minute response target. Bella arrived at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds an hour after the 999 call but tragically died that day.
HM Coroner for Norfolk, William Armstong, said that “a catalogue of catastrophes and a chaotic response" caused "wholly indefensible" delays that reduced Bella's chances of survival. The inquest in Norwich heard that an emergency first response car was immediately dispatched from only a mile away but the car’s satellite navigation system was not sufficiently up to date to find the house on a new-build estate and there were “too many blue doors”.
It was revealed that ambulance crews were often forced to use local knowledge due to this problem. An ambulance followed but was low on fuel and stopped at a petrol station to refuel rather go immediately to the house. Controllers at the East of England Ambulance Service failed to inform the crew that an air ambulance had also been dispatched so there was no need for them to refuel.
Mr Armstrong recorded a narrative verdict, concluding that Bella died from congenital heart disease after delays in medical assistance which reduced the prospects of her survival.
East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust has been subject to ongoing criticism regarding its organisation and response times. This week it was revealed that the trust had withdrawn its application for Foundation Trust status to focus on improving standards. Interim director of clinical quality, John Martin, said: “Following Bella’s death, a number of specific measures have been put in place, and the trust has raised the problems of the delay in new buildings and developments appearing on maps and sat nav systems on a national level." He added that the trust was also recruiting more frontline staff and getting more ambulances on the road.
Guy Forster, a specialist clinical negligence solicitor in the Cambridge office of Penningtons Solicitors, said: “The tragic death of Bella Hastings has revealed some alarming deep-seated systemic failings as well as concerns about individual standards of care. It is staggering that an emergency service can respond in such a chaotic way and there is now a real onus on the trust to show that it has truly learnt lessons from this tragedy and is making every effort to ensure the service is fit for purpose.”