A three-month-old baby died after an ambulance took three times the target time to reach her because it stopped to REFUEL – then got lost TWICE.
Bella Hellings’ mother made a desperate call for an ambulance when the infant suffered a fit at home and stopped breathing.
But instead of reaching the infant within the recommended eight minutes it took paramedics 26 minutes to arrive at the scene.
The health trust responsible for the crew has now identified a “catalogue of errors” in a damning report into the tragedy.
East of England Ambulance Service Trust’s (EEAST) own investigation into the blunders has found:
- A crew attending a job 30 miles away was sent to the scene, when there was an ambulance free just FIVE MILES away.
- When a third ambulance was called to the emergency it had to stop to REFUEL.
- The crew, including a driver on her first shift, then couldn’t FIND the house, other ambulances had not struggled to reach.
- An air ambulance carrying a doctor was dispatched to the scene, but no-one informed the ground paramedics, who drove off with Bella.
- The ambulance then got lost AGAIN on its way back to A&E, even though Bella’s mother was shouting directions.
- When it finally reached the hospital the paramedics did not know hot to work the LIFT.
By the time Bella was seen by a doctor she had not been breathing for almost an hour and was pronounced dead.
In addition, Bella’s family claim the paramedics insensitively JOKED about creaking knees when they first bent down to scoop up the baby.
And during the journey back to the hospital the crew casually talked about their weekend, the family say.
EEAST, which is already under fire for other similar tragedies, has said it is now recruiting more frontline staff to improve its service.
But Bella’s family have called for more to be done ahead of an inquest, which will rule on the blunders’ contribution to the infant’s death.
Bella’s devastated mother Amy Carter and father, lorry driver Scott Hellings, both 24, slammed the ambulance trust as a “shambles”.
In a statement released through their solicitor, the couple said: “We see this report as an important first step towards establishing the facts and ensuring a dramatic improvement in the ambulance service.
“It was a catalogue of errors. The report portrays an organization in a complete shambles.
“Little Bella was one of five patients to die following ambulance delays during March alone.
“For years it was known there was an alarming problem, but warnings went unheeded.
“There is however no evidence that staff on the ground were responsible for the problems, and we can only wonder what their morale must be like.”
The damning report was compiled following Bella’s death on March 11, after her family made an official complaint.
Bella stopped breathing at around 11am at her home in Thetford, Norfolk, after suffering a fit and her mother dialled 999.
It was the third time the mother had called an ambulance amid concerns for her daughter.
On the first occasion the crew arrived in just two minutes and Amy and paramedics managed to revive her.
The second incident was more serious and after the ambulance arrived promptly Bella was taken to hospital.
On the third, fatal occasion, the report alleges the series of “failures” took place during the critical 26 minutes it took an ambulance to reach the patient.
The report details how the first ambulance sent to the call was already treating a patient in a Norwich hospital, 30 miles away.
The ambulance went round a roundabout on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds TWICE before taking the longer route to A&E.
The new report also revealed that an air ambulance was dispatched with a clinician on board, but the other ambulance weren’t notified and had by this time collected the patient.
It also explains when the baby finally reached A&E she was carried inside by a medic, rather than been wheeled on a stretcher, which would have allowed treatment to take place.
The report revealed the ambulance crew did not know how to use the lift at the back door of the vehicle so a paramedic carried her into the hospital rather than using a stretcher and continuing treatment
Speaking when the EEAST confirmed it was investigating Bella’s death Amy, also mum to son Ryan, four, said: “The people who are meant to help failed Bella. If they had got to her in time she would be alive today.”
The family’s lawyer Sharon Allison, a medical negligence specialist with Ashton KCJ, says the family will consider their legal position after the inquest, in September.
A spokesman for the EEAST said: “We can confirm that a thorough internal investigation has taken place and the findings have been shared as appropriate ahead of the coroner’s inquest which is being held in Norfolk in September.
“As a Trust, we are in the process of recruiting more frontline staff and getting more ambulances on the road in order to improve our performance for patients living in those areas of most need.
“This approach is borne out of our turnaround plan published in April and, in effect, by increasing staffing and resources, we can help reduce journey times of crews and ensure that we are responding to patients more quickly.”
Bella’s death is one of five the EEAST, which covers Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, is currently facing questions over.
It has been criticised for almost two years over its poor response times, particularly in rural areas, before it was reviewed
All five non-executive directors of the Trust have since resigned.
Pretty 14-year-old Elouise Keeling, from Huntingdon, Cambs., died from an asthma attack in June this year after an EEAST ambulance went to the wrong address.