Patient died waiting for ambulance after New Year systems crash sparked chaos

A patient died when London Ambulance Service’s computer system suffered a major crash during the New Year celebrations, an investigation revealed today. 

The system went down at 12.30am on January 1 and did not come fully back online until 5.15am. A total of 2,810 calls received a delayed response during the LAS’s busiest period of the year. 

The male patient, who has not been named, was conscious and breathing when the first 999 call was received. A call handler remained on the line and dispatched an ambulance when the man’s condition deteriorated. 

It arrived within 12 minutes, 48 minutes after the first call was received, but the crew found the patient dead. 

His cause of death has not been confirmed and it is not known whether they would have survived if paramedics had arrived within the target eight minutes. 

LAS chiefs today declined to comment further on the case pending a coroner’s inquest. 

Today’s report found the system, used by call handlers to log calls and to pass data to ambulance dispatchers, failed because the computer system’s “waste basket” was full and had not been emptied. 

A major incident was declared and call handlers had to resort to writing details on paper. Runners conveyed the paper slips to dispatchers who then radioed crews with the incident address. Crews had to rely on A-Z maps as the automated sat-nav system in the ambulances also failed. 

At the worst point in the evening, between 3am and 4am, people waited more than 24 minutes for their 999 call to be answered. Calls should be answered within five seconds. 

It took more than seven hours for an ambulance to arrive at some lower priority calls. 

The report reveals that LAS’s two control rooms, in Waterloo and Bow, were under such pressure that staff asked for help from other emergency services, including the Scottish Ambulance Service, to handle almost 500 calls. 

The investigation looked into 111 higher-risk cases received in the early hours. The report said: “Aside from the [deceased] patient there is no evidence that any other patients suffered a deterioration in clinical condition. 

“Although it is recognised that the quality of their experience was possibly impacted, no complaints have been received expressing concerns.”

LAS chief executive Garrett Emmerson said the computer system, which is about five years old, had been repaired and was “fit for purpose”. He said the pen-and-paper back-up plan had worked well. 

A subsequent 13-hour crash happened in April when the system could not be rebooted after planned maintenance. The report revealed there had been 10 other crashes since December 2013. Mr Emmerson said this was “not out of line” with what was expected by similar organisations. 

Dr Fenella Wrigley, LAS medical director, said: “Patients with low-priority problems, not life-threatening conditions, waited longer for an ambulance. New Year’s Eve is very busy. We appreciate that, for them, waiting for an ambulance was difficult for them. We are very sorry about that.” 

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