Hackney stroke patient denied an ambulance by 999 and 111 call handlers

Ambulance crews attended Station Parade, Barking, to reports of a serious assault.

Ambulance crews attended Station Parade, Barking, to reports of a serious assault. - Credit: Getty Images

A woman who had suffered a potentially fatal stroke was told to go and see her GP the following day instead of being sent an ambulance to rush her to hospital – because her symptoms did not match the tick-list used by their call handlers.

Staff at the 999 and 111 numbers – which use similar software – considered 68-year-old Edna Braeger a non-emergency because she told them she was able to raise her hand above her head – the classic symptom of a stroke.

Despite not being able to move her hand at all, they told her not to worry and advised her to call back again if her symptoms got any worse, or to go to her GP later that day when they opened.

But feeling unwell and disoriented Mrs Braeger, a retired shop manager from Victoria Park, was convinced something was wrong - and starting to panic she phoned back her out-of-hours GP.

Luckily Dr Allison phoned 999 to call an ambulance herself, saying she couldn’t rule out a stroke. In a stark recording obtained after the event – which the Gazette has heard - the GP is asked: “Does this represent an immediate threat to her life?” and she replies: “I would say so.”

Her daughter Angela, an NHS nurse, has slammed the 111 service as incompetent.

“I wouldn’t recommend anyone uses it,” she said. “It might be ok if you have a cold, but I wouldn’t even give it a chest infection in case something was missed. They are trained in spreadsheet questions and it’s tick-box ‘do you fit the criteria or don’t you’. It doesn’t have to be you can’t raise your arm above your head if you have had a stroke - she could raise her arm but couldn’t move her hand. It’s more than that - and if they don’t recognise that they fail every patient that contacts them.”

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The incident happened in October 2015 and Angela still finds it difficult to listen to the recording of her mum’s call. “When you listen you can tell my mum is disoriented. She is talking quite slowly. The worst case scenario is she could have been dead. Simple as really,” she said. The best outcome came from her treating herself with Aspirin. The stroke doctor said she did the right thing.”

Under NHS England’s proposed money-saving Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP) for North East London (NEL), there are plans to roll out the 111 phone line.

A spokesman for the London Ambulance Service apologised for Mrs Braeger’s distress.

She said: “We prioritise all emergency calls so those in life-threatening conditions get the quickest response. From the information provided to us, the patient was conscious, breathing, alert and did not require an emergency ambulance. This is the recognised failsafe to telephone assessment and used throughout the UK.”

A spokesman for the NHS said they will investigate the matter: “We are sorry that the patient doesn’t seem to have received the care she needed,” he added.