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220719 | Woman's 'life saved' by driving to London instead of waiting hours in Cornwall ambulance

Woman's 'life saved' by driving to London instead of waiting hours in Cornwall ambulance

The retired GP believes she was seen faster than if she waited in an ambulance outside of Royal Cornwall Hospital

A seriously ill retired GP forced to wait outside her local hospital in the back of an ambulance had her ''life saved'' by her family - who drove her 300 miles to one in London instead.

A seriously ill woman forced to wait outside of Royal Cornwall Hospital in the back of an ambulance had her ''life saved'' when her family decided to drive her 300 miles for treatment in London instead.

Dr Alison Durkin, 61, woke up with chest pains and called 999 before waiting hours outside Royal Cornwall Hospital which has declared an internal 'critical incident' due to acute pressure on beds. In recent times, CornwallLive has reported that patients are forced to wait outside in queues of over 30 ambulances.

Eventually the retired GP was discharged, but her chest pain was worse the following day. Alison and husband Ross Durkin, 63, did some desperate research and found huge queues outside all major hospitals in the South West.


They decided to drive 300 miles to a hospital in London in the hope of being seen faster where she was admitted to Charing Cross Hospital on Thursday (July 14). In comparison, the London hospital had just one ambulance outside and she was seen in ten minutes. She remains in a serious condition.

Mr Durkin, of Helston, said: "After waiting for hours on Monday, Alison couldn't face it again so we decided to drive to London. I was genuinely concerned Alison wasn't going to make it. I thought it would be our last day together.

"When we got to Charing Cross and saw just one ambulance outside A&E compared to the 33 outside the hospital in Cornwall, my heart soared. Alison got seen within ten minutes of arriving. That's how it should be."

He continued: "We were fortunate that we had the time and resources to embark on the journey to London, but not everyone can do that. I'm not sure whether she'd still be here to be honest, it's not an easy thing to say.''

Her husband was not sure if she would still be here had they not made the drive

Alison, who retired as a GP in 1999 due to ongoing heart problems, found herself in pain last Monday (July 11) and called an ambulance. After speaking to her GP then NHS 111, she called an ambulance and was taken to her local NHS hospital, Royal Hospital Cornwall in Truro.

But she was not taken to the Emergency Department (ED) and instead spent the whole afternoon and evening in the back of the ambulance she arrived in. Eventually, Ross said she was seen by a junior doctor in the evening who discharged her, suggesting her issues were Covid symptoms. The pair returned home.

Alison woke up on Tuesday morning testing negative for Covid but feeling worse, so Ross checked the waiting times at other hospitals in the South West. He said: "We checked Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol but they were no better. Bristol Royal Infirmary told us there were 88 people in the queue for A&E."

He believed "the only answer" was to go to and find a hospital where there wasn't a massive queue outside and where she could actually get decent quality of care. They spent the following two days attempting to get in touch with a London doctor who had previously treated Alison for her condition, but they were unable to arrange an appointment.

Alison Durkin is from Helston

They finally decided to travel to London anyway hoping they could find a hospital with less queues. He added said: "Should you ever find yourself in the position we were last Wednesday when you believe that if you do nothing the chances are that a loved one is going to die, you will probably come to the same conclusion that we did and go elsewhere.

Ross said they were "truly appalled" at the way things were handled at the hospital in Cornwall - and he is demanding something must change. He is in the process of writing to several local MPs to tell their story in the hope something will be done.

He said: "I have nothing but praise for the poor ambulance drivers and trained paramedics who are currently spending their time sitting on the back step of their vehicles, unable to attend other emergencies because they are stuck in a queue.

"We were fortunate that we had the time and resources to embark on the journey to London that we did. But I dread to think what happens to the old folk around Cornwall who can’t travel… do they just accept their fate? If the situation wasn’t so preposterous it would be laughable. People in positions of authority need to start banging their heads together to find a way of resolving this."

The retired GP while in hospital

The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust apologised for the distress caused to Mrs Durkin and her husband.

A spokesperson said: "Our staff are working exceptionally hard in very difficult circumstances and will always make sure patients are assessed on their arrival at our emergency department and those most critically ill will be admitted right away."

Cornwall Council, the body responsible for social care in the county, said it was "working closely with partners across the health and care sector to support people to leave hospital as soon as they can". It said recruitment in the sector continued "to be an issue".


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