Advising with empathy and experience

Heart attack man, 68, died after ambulance service failed to respond.


Ambulance bosses have apologised to the family of a man who died after he had a heart attack but no ambulance responded to take him to hospital.

Martin Clark, 68, started suffering with chest pains at his home in East Sussex on 18 November 2022 before any NHS strike action started.

His family called three times for an ambulance and drove him in their car to hospital after waiting 45 minutes.

When they arrived, the father-of-five went into cardiac arrest and, despite receiving medical attention, died.

His wife, Ann, said while waiting for an ambulance he had been crying out in pain and at one point wrote a note saying: "I don't think I'm going to make it. Love you."

It was excruciating, she said, adding: "He was let down very badly. They should have come."

The case has come to light as NHS England has published figures showing a dramatic deterioration in NHS waiting times amid record demand.


The figures show that in December there were average waits of more than 90 minutes to reach emergency calls such as heart attacks, five times longer than the target time, and that response times for the highest priority calls, such as cardiac arrests, took close to 11 minutes, four minutes longer than they should.

The figures also showed that more than a third of patients in A&E waited longer than four hours; one in seven patients waited more than 12 hours for a bed on a ward when they need to be admitted.  

National director of the Healthwatch England patient group, Louise Ansari, said "Pressures on the NHS right now are intolerable - with patients paying the price."

Ms Clark told the BBC she constantly wonders what would have happened had an ambulance arrived quickly.

Her husband had high blood pressure but had been a "fit man". She said: "He didn't drink. He didn't smoke. He walked every day. That day, he was out there with a chainsaw, cutting the hedge.

"The NHS is broken. Everybody is scared where can they turn if they get ill. Something needs to change. There's going to be so many deaths because of this. It's terrible."

The Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch, which investigates incidents in the NHS, has previously warned about the risk to patients from ambulance delays.

One of the key problems is the long delays crews face at accident and emergency units.

The handover of patients should be done within 15 minutes but in November, a third took more than 30 minutes. By the end of the December, this had risen to more than 40%.

Associate medical director with the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, said cases such as the Clarks' were "incredibly distressing".

She said: "The difference between life and death can be a matter of minutes when someone is having a heart attack or stroke. Extreme delays to emergency heart and stroke care cannot become a new normal.

"Healthcare staff are doing all they can but there aren't enough of them and many will be working in difficult conditions without fit-for-purpose facilities.

"There are no easy solutions but there is a way out of this crisis if the NHS gets the significant investment it needs to address the vast backlog of heart care.

"It's also vital that we get prevention back on track to stop heart attacks and strokes from happening in the first place."

The Department of Health and Social Care said it could not comment on individual cases but recognised the pressures the NHS was facing following the pandemic and was "working tirelessly" to ensure people received the care they needed.

This included an extra £750m being invested this winter to free up hospital beds and unlock some of the delays in the emergency-care system.