By Luke Trevorrow, medical negligence solicitor at Irwin Mitchell 

Last week I saw an interview on BBC Spotlight with Colin Holloway whose wife waited 12 hours for an ambulance whilst experiencing chest pain for it to never show up. This was because the only major hospital in Cornwall, Treliske, was in a ‘critical incident’ status.

The population in Cornwall is around 500,000 (565,000 to be exact, according to Google) and this does not take into account the many tourists who visit the region on holiday, which I am sure goes some way to doubling that figure in the summer.

Waiting for an ambulance is often a matter of life or death

What was scary about Mrs Holloway’s situation is that such a wait for an ambulance can (and often is) a matter of life and death. As a medical negligence solicitor I can attest to this. 

Inability to discharge patients a worsening problem

Thankfully I understand that she is okay but the problem is not one specific to the COVID pandemic although I am sure it is worsened by it. The cause was (and continues to be) the lack of available beds because of the inability to discharge patients into the community and this has been a worsening problem for a number of years now (admittedly not just for Cornwall). 

The nearest alternative, major hospital is Derriford and for those in West Penwith (Penzance/ St Ives/ Hayle) it is a two hour drive away, even in the event that the ambulances are available to take them there.

To put things in perspective, Bristol has a population of 467,000 (again according to Google) and is served by two major hospitals by way of the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Southmead Hospital. 

Whilst the Bristol hospitals serve more than just the city of Bristol, it does illustrate how extremely vulnerable those living in Cornwall are in times of crisis, which are becoming increasingly common during the winter months. 

Increased funding will help create extra capacity and attract more skilled medical professionals

More needs to be done to alleviate this pressure and to better serve the Cornish population. In my view, there must be funding made available to build greater capacity at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, and attract the right skills to the area. 

Community care and ambulance capacity must also be increased in the meantime to avoid patient harm and ensure that people are not waiting for ambulances that never arrive.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and their families affected by medical care issues at our dedicated medical negligence section.