Advising with empathy and experience

89-year-old man taken to hospital strapped to a plank in the back of a van because of ambulance shortage.


An 89-year-old man with a broken hip and shoulder and a cut head had to be taken to hospital strapped to a plank in the back of a van because there were no ambulances available.

His family said that Melvyn Ryan, whose wife, Maureen, died of Covid in 2020, could have died if they had they not found a makeshift way of getting him to safety at Grange University Hospital where he remained until his death on February 1 this year.

Mr Ryan’s granddaughter, Nicole Lea, found him lying on the floor of his home in Cwmbran, south Wales, in the early hours but, when she dialled 999, a call handler told her no ambulances were available and advised her to book a taxi before ringing off.

Nicole Lea, 27, a firefighter, said: “I couldn’t really believe what I was being told. I was expecting a long wait for paramedics but never thought I’d literally be told: ‘We have nothing to send, you’ll have to find alternative transport.’

“I was left with grandad on the floor in agony and me wondering how I was going to save his life. I ended up, with my partner and mum’s help, getting him on to a plank of wood and into the back of the van we bought to transport our dogs.

“To make matters worse, when we did get him to hospital the staff told me that had we followed the advice we’d been given over the phone, he could’ve died. They told us that, had we sat him up in a taxi, the break in his hip would’ve likely ruptured an artery and been catastrophic.”

She said she felt saddened and disappointed. “I knew the NHS was in trouble and wait times were long. I also knew that it’s understaffed and its workers are underpaid but what I didn’t know when I called 999 was that they’d just turn around and say they weren’t sending help and expect me to figure out how to get him to safety.”

Nicole Lea added: “It’s only because of teamwork, brainstorming and quick thinking that the three of us managed to get granddad to hospital within a couple of hours.”

Lea’s partner, Elliot Hill, said: “Once we got to the hospital, though, everyone was great, couldn’t have done more for Melvyn. They rushed to my van and got him straight inside on a trolley.

“He was also X-rayed within an hour or so. Our complaint is not with frontline staff at all, it’s with the management.”

Executive director of operations at the Welsh ambulance service, Lee Brooks, said: “We are sorry to hear about Mr Ryan’s experience. It is certainly below the level of service that we aim to offer.

“Current levels of demand, handover delays at hospitals, and staff sickness levels, has limited our capacity to respond in a safe and timely manner.”

The service invited the family to discuss its claims about the call handler’s actions and advice.

The chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Cymru, Dr Iona Collins, said: “Mr Ryan has had what sounds like the most appalling of experiences.

“How must the ambulance service feel when they are getting calls like this? Obvious its an emergency and they need help and they are unable to help. This is the stuff of nightmares.”