The family of a woman who died after being forced to wait for 15 hours in an ambulance outside an A&E department say they are angry and want answers.

Marie Shenton, 70, died at Torbay Hospital, South Devon, following the long delay. She had been kept outside despite paramedics warning staff her condition was worsening.

Mrs Shenton’s sister, Bridget Haynes, told Sky News: “My sister’s dead because she was in an ambulance for 15 hours and that’s not right. That’s just not right.”

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‘I want some answers’

She added: “To die the way she did, it wasn’t humane. You wouldn’t let the dog suffer like that.”

Mrs Shenton’s family called an ambulance on 27 November 2022 because she had begun vomiting blood.

They say her case was treated as a category one emergency and an ambulance responded quickly and took her to Torbay Hospital.

But it was there the long wait began.

“She was vomiting blood and the paramedics went in and told the staff what was happening,” her sister said. “They sent a nurse out to take a blood test.

“Then Marie wanted to go to the toilet and they took her to the toilet and she was just passing pure blood so paramedics told staff again, but nobody came.”

‘She bled to death’

At the start of Mrs Shenton’s time in the ambulance, family members were able to speak to her on the phone, Mrs Haynes said.

“She was chatting, she was laughing and joking… talking about Christmas,” she said.

Marie Shenton pictured with her husband just days before she fell ill
Mrs Shenton pictured with her husband just days before she fell ill

But by the time she was finally admitted into hospital, her condition had significantly deteriorated.

Mrs Haynes said: “She was just mumbling. And all she kept saying was, ‘thank you, thank you, sorry, thank you’. That’s all she kept saying.”

The hospital eventually found a bed for Mrs Shenton but her health did not improve. On 30 November, the family got a call to say her condition had deteriorated. When they arrived they were told she had fallen out of bed.

She passed away later that afternoon.

‘I am just so angry about it’

“She bled to death,” Mrs Haynes said. “It shouldn’t have happened. I am just so angry about it. I just want some answers.

“I want to know why my sister fell out of bed for a start, and why in this day and age – 15 hours in an ambulance? We’re like a third-world country. And we’re one of the richest countries going and this is happening. It’s not right.”

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Reflecting on her own career as a healthcare assistant, Mrs Haynes said: “I worked for the NHS for 37 years up until 2017 and I can’t believe what’s happening. I can’t believe it. It’s scary, very scary.

“The government have got to do something. They can’t just keep letting this happen.”

The family say the paramedics who cared for Mrs Shenton “were absolutely brilliant” and “did everything they could”.

But they are angry with Torbay Hospital.

‘We don’t want anyone waiting in an ambulance longer than necessary’

Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust’s medical director Ian Currie said: “We would like to send our heartfelt condolences to Mrs Shenton’s family.

“We cannot comment on individual cases due to patient confidentiality but remain in contact with her next of kin.

“We don’t want anyone waiting in an ambulance longer than necessary and all patients arriving at our emergency department are triaged and assessed, with the most clinically urgent being prioritised.

“We work closely with South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust to make sure everyone waiting in an ambulance is robustly assessed, monitored, and their care is escalated and prioritised appropriately.”

Health systems under pressure

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Across the UK, Europe and internationally, health systems are seeing a significant impact on operational performance due to the impact of the pandemic, the rapid spike in flu, Strep A and the ongoing high levels of COVID.

“That’s why, as I set out this week, we’re taking urgent action to ease pressures on A&E, including investing an additional £200m to get medically fit patients out of hospital quicker and boost the social care workforce, on top of our £500m discharge fund, creating the equivalent of 7,000 more beds through innovations like virtual wards, and putting £50m towards expanding capacity in emergency departments through new discharge lounges and ambulance hubs.”

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