A MAN was found dead at his home by paramedics after waiting more than seven hours for an ambulance in the early hours of Boxing Day, an inquest heard.

High demand for emergency vehicles over the Christmas period, staff sickness and delays handing patients over at hospitals meant South Western Ambulance Service could not immediately send a crew to treat Leonard Smith.

Bournemouth Coroner’s Court was told yesterday that the first 999 call was made at 12.50am on December 26 last year by a member of the Careline team after Mr Smith had activated his alarm.

But due to the high-level of demand on the service that night a rapid response vehicle did not arrive at Mr Smith's home in East Borough, Wimborne, until 8.17am - seven hours and 27 minutes after the call.

The inquest heard that on arrival the paramedic found Mr Smith dead on his bathroom floor.

According to pathologist Dr Brett Lockyer Mr Smith died as a result of an enlarged heart and scarring on the heart. He also had cirrhosis of the liver which was likely the result of long-term alcohol abuse, the inquest heard.

On the night of Mr Smith's death there was a four-minute delay in answering the 999 due to a spike in demand. The call was eventually answered at 12.54am and the Careline team reported that Mr Smith had "fallen and had possibly hurt himself" but was breathing and concious.

He was rated as a category three patient - which identified him as an urgent problem which is not believed to be immediately life threatening.

The indicative response time is 40 minutes.

At 1.24am a clinical supervisor attempted to contact Mr Smith at home, but no one answered the phone, and at this time a clinical judgement was made to keep Mr Smith as a category three.

The inquest heard that no efforts were made to contact Mr Smith after this time - despite procedure which states category three patients should be contacted every hour.

Richard Smith, Leonard's brother, told the inquest that a seven-hour delay was "unacceptable".

Dr Andrew Smith, executive medical director at South Western Ambulance Service, agreed that the delay was "not acceptable" and apologised to Mr Smith and his family.

He told the inquest that following a serious incident investigation recommendations had been made regarding welfare calls and 999 calls that are made by a third party.

"We want to make sure that this doesn't happen again and that we get to people in time," he added.

The coroner said it was not possible to say whether Mr Smith would have survived if he had received treatment earlier as it was impossible to know his exact time of death.

According to Dr Lockyer, Mr Smith could have died of a sudden cardiac arrest and died instantly.

Coroner Rachael Griffin recorded death by natural causes. She did not find that there had been neglect by the ambulance service but said it was "disappointing and frustrating that no call to Mr Smith was made after 1.24am".

Ambulance delays ‘unacceptable and extremely dangerous to patients’ health’

‘UNACCEPTABLE and extremely dangerous to patients’ health.’

That is how healthwatch groups are describing ambulance delays – and they have called for funding for more resources.

Leonard Smith, who died in a seven hour and 27 minute ambulance wait, is tragically just the latest to shock the county.

Businessman Guy Hedger, who died after he was shot in the torso at his Castlewood home near St Ives, waited more than 50 minutes for an ambulance in the early hours of April 30.

He was categorised as ‘conscious and breathing’ at the time of the initial call at 3.05am and was not categorised as a top priority patient. The call was upgraded to a category one incident at 3.31am and crews arrived at 3.51am.

However despite 40 minutes of paramedics and the firearms medical team trying to save his life at the scene, he died at Poole Hospital.

As previously reported, the family of an 85-year-old Ferndown pensioner last year branded their relative's three-hour ambulance wait after he suffered a stroke ‘shameful.’

In August last year, a 91-year-old great grandad from Southbourne was forced to make his own way to hospital when an ambulance failed to turn up last August - more than an hour after collapsing with severe chest pains and vomiting.

Months later the plight of 96-year-old Rosetta West, who was left lying on the floor while she waited four hours for an ambulance, was raised in parliament.

The Blitz survivor told how she was anxious and in pain after falling at her sheltered flat in Poole last October and protocols did not allow staff to move her while they waited.

South Dorset MP Richard Drax told the House of Commons the ‘frail’ pensioner’s plight was typical of cases which were ‘downgraded by call handlers under immense pressure for other incidents.’

In April, a 70-year-old broke her collarbone and lay waiting more than six hours for an ambulance in Bournemouth. Last December, footballer Elliot Smith lay in a puddle with an agonising double leg break for three-and-a-half hours.

Liz McAnulty, chair of the Patients Association, said: “Continuously missed response time targets are entirely unacceptable and extremely dangerous to patients' health. The Patients Association again urges the Government to provide the necessary funding to re-establish a health service fit for purpose; patients and staff deserve better than this."

Martyn Webster, Healthwatch Dorset manager, added the independent watchdog has been told of 'many situations' where people have been left waiting for four to five hours, and even longer, for an ambulance.

He said: "Local people need to be assured that the ambulance service is adequately funded and equipped to deal with emergencies, wherever you live across Dorset.

"Ambulance crews deserve that assurance too, because people tell us how much they value the fantastic service they provide but also how aware they are of them being hampered by the lack of adequate resources."

A spokesperson from South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Smith’s family and friends at this time.

"The coroner found that Mr Smith died of natural causes and there were no formal recommendations for the ambulance service.”

Liz McAnulty, chair of the Patients Association, said: “Continuously missed response time targets are entirely unacceptable and extremely dangerous to patients' health. The Patients Association again urges the Government to provide the necessary funding to re-establish a health service fit for purpose; patients and staff deserve better than this."