27 Sept 2022

'Watching an elderly person in such a helpless state was very difficult' - Concerns after suicidal man waits five hours for treatment in Derry

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A SENIOR figure within the Western Trust has said that there are not enough services ‘on the ground’ in Derry to deal with people with mental health issues needing urgent treatment. The comments came at a recent council meeting, where it emerged that a suicidal man in Derry had to wait for five hours before he was seen by medical staff. The incident happened in the Creggan area of the city on Sunday, June3, but details of the incident have only recently come to light. The independent councillor for the area, Gary Donnelly, who was with the man at the time, has now raised concerns over the lack of care available at the time for the elderly man, particularly in regards to how the Out of Hours at Altnagelvin Hospital handles people with mental health issues. “On the night in question I spotted this man, who was in an extremely bad emotional state,” he told the Derry News. “I asked him if he was okay, and he replied, ‘No, I want to die’." “Not knowing what to do I asked him where he lived and took him to his home, where he told me of a recent bereavement and that since this loss he was lonely and didn't want to live anymore.” Cllr Donnelly then rang the Out of Hours service at 10.33pm, after which a doctor called back and asked him to take the man to the A&E Department in Altnagelvin. “I told him I had no transport and it would be difficult on my own, this was at 10:30pm,” Cllr Donnelly added. “The doctor said that I should stay with the man as this was a very serious situation and that he would call an ambulance an urgent one and that it should be there within the hour. “Having no training or experience in this type of situation and not usually known for dealing with such emotions I thought this is going to be a difficult hour. “Watching an elderly man in such a helpless and emotional state was very difficult.” The ambulance did not arrive, and Cllr Donnelly then contacted the Out of Hours service again at 12.30pm, but he said they had no record of his call. “I rang the ambulance service and asked was the call logged and they said it was, but they were stretched and dealing with several emergencies. “An ambulance did arrive at 3.15am, five hours after I put the first call in to the Out of Hours service.” He added: “This is by no means a criticism of our ambulance service as they do an amazing job under difficult circumstances, but it is unacceptable for a patient in crisis to be waiting five hours.” “However, the lack of help for those with mental health issues in this town is a disgrace.” Cllr Donnelly recently raised the incident at a meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Health and Community committee, where senior figures from the Western Trust presented a number of reports. Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Donnelly said that the ‘gap’ in provision for mental health emergencies needed to be addressed, given that someone who wished to take their own life had to wait for such a long period of time. Caution Responding, Lesley Mitchell, Director of Finance and Contracting, said that there were ‘just not enough services on the ground to deal with what you have described’. She added that funding the Trust was expecting to receive through the ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement secured with the government would also be used for mental health. The Derry News also contacted Western Urgent Care, who are responsible for the Out of Hours service, for a response to Cllr Donnelly’s claims. “We can confirm that a call was received on Sunday, June 4 from someone concerned about their neighbour and they did indeed speak to one of our GPs. “Following a telephone conversation with them the advice was that the patient should be transferred to the A&E department and the GP contacted the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) to request for an ambulance to be despatched to their location. “Once a call is transferred to NIAS then the patient care is handed over to them and they arrange for any further assessments as they require direct contact with the patient (their carers /by-stander etc) and to provide any guidance or instructions which are necessary.” The spokesperson continued that while it could confirm that a follow-up call at 12.35am, Western Urgent Care would need to ‘review its call logs and recordings to listen to the discussion to ascertain the nature of that conversation’. “It would have been a different team of staff handling calls so they may not have been aware of the earlier call and also due to patient confidentiality they would have exercised caution to avoid inappropriately sharing any information on a patient,” the spokesperson continued. “We can only assume at this stage that when it was mentioned an ambulance had been requested that they were advised to contact NIAS as our colleagues there would be dealing with it as an emergency response.” The spokesperson continued that once any patient is assessed as requiring an emergency response, rather than an urgent care response from the GP Out of Hours service, Western Urgent care uses ‘a locally agreed and tested approach’ whereby calls are directly handed over to the NIAS call centre. “This is so that any emergency guidance can be given by trained staff and also so they have accurate information on the patient’s status and location,” the spokesperson added. Distress In a statement issued to the Derry News, a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Ambulance (NIAS) apologised for any ‘extra discomfort and distress caused to the patient’. “The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service received a GP Out of Hours call at 10:44pm on Sunday, June 3, 2018 to request an ambulance for a male with mental health issues in the Creggan area of the city. “Based on the information provided to the call-taker by the GP, the call was determined to be Category C, neither serious, nor immediately life-threatening.” “At the time of this call NIAS was experiencing a high volume of calls, the service was under extreme pressure.” The spokesperson continued: “NIAS allocated a crew to the call at 03:04am on Monday, June 4 from Altnagelvin Ambulance Station. The crew arrived at the scene at 03:13. “In situations like this, NIAS would encourage a call back to them should the patient’s condition deteriorate. “The call could then be upgraded to a 999 call if required. NIAS did not receive a call back.” The spokesperson continued that following assessment and treatment at the scene by paramedics, the patient declined transport to hospital. “NIAS would like to apologise for any extra discomfort and distress caused to the patient during his wait for the arrival of an ambulance,” the spokesperson added. “NIAS aims to provide three Emergency Ambulances at all times from Altnagelvin Ambulance Station. “There are also two Rapid Response Vehicles (RRVs) that cover between 8am and midnight.”

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