Lord Winston has accused a 999 operator of wasting time as his wife Lady Winston lay dying. They are pictured in 2013
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Lord Winston accuses 999 call handler of wasting time as his wife lay dying… by asking him to count her heartbeats

  • The Labour peer, 81, said 999 operator wasted his time as his wife lay dying
  • Some callers are waiting for more than nine minutes before getting an answer
  • Lord Winston demanded ministers improve standards in healthcare and emergency services 
  • ** Have you suffered a similar 999 tragedy? Email [email protected] **

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IVF pioneer Lord Winston has accused a 999 operator of wasting time as his wife lay dying by making him count her heartbeats.

The Labour peer, 81, told how the call handler bombarded him with questions before dispatching an ambulance.

He demanded ministers improve standards following the sudden death of Lady Winston, 72, at their home in December last year.

The Labour peer spoke of his ordeal for the first time as the House of Lords debated the problem of deaths caused by delays to ambulance services.

Lord Winston has accused a 999 operator of wasting time as his wife Lady Winston lay dying. They are pictured in 2013

Lord Winston has accused a 999 operator of wasting time as his wife Lady Winston lay dying. They are pictured in 2013 

Last month the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch warned that patients are suffering serious harm from having to wait for paramedics then getting stuck outside busy A&E departments.

And a Daily Mail investigation found that in some areas callers to 999 are having to wait more than nine minutes for someone to answer the phone.

Lord Winston, who is also known for BBC series Child Of Our Time, said yesterday: ‘Some months ago, as my wife lay dying in my arms, I phoned the 999 service. 

‘The man answering the call asked me a litany of questions and asked me to count her number of heartbeats per minute. That waste of time is critical; with a cardiac arrest you have only a few seconds.

‘I had to interrupt the cardiac massage that I was giving my wife until the emergency services arrived, but of course they had not been called yet.

‘When eventually the man backed down, it was obvious that he had not been trained to ask the right questions.’

Lord Winston, known for the BBC's Child Of Our Time, is pictured with his late wife Lady Winston and sons Joel and Ben

Lord Winston, known for the BBC’s Child Of Our Time, is pictured with his late wife Lady Winston and sons Joel and Ben

Lord Winston, who is Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College London, asked health minister Lord Kamall to confirm ‘that there is proper training for people who answer these calls at these critical times, when they are dealing with someone who may recognise that their close relative is dying and that the latter can hear what they are saying on the telephone’.

In response, Lord Kamall thanked him for sharing his ‘very personal story’ and admitted: ‘Clearly there are too many incidents of this kind.’ 

The Minister suggested: ‘The person was probably trained to ask particular questions to ascertain how serious or how urgent it was and sadly, clearly it was inappropriate. I will take that particular case back to the department to see if I can get some answers.’

Opening the debate, Lord Young of Norwood Green warned: ‘People are dying as we sit in this chamber, literally thousands of them, and why? 

‘Because paramedics are waiting, would you believe it, by hospital trolleys in the hospital waiting for a bed.’ 

He said that when the son of another peer, Baroness Uddin, had a stroke it took ‘maybe six hours’ for an ambulance to arrive and he ‘suffered as a result of that serious consequences’.

Tory peer Lord Tugendhat told how when he was run over in Westminster last week, it was police who took him to hospital rather than an ambulance.

He said: ‘Last Wednesday I was knocked down in Great George Street by a bicycle and rendered unconscious, and although a paramedic arrived from St. Thomas’s by bicycle quite quickly, there was no ambulance.

‘I was very grateful to the police, therefore, for taking me into St. Thomas’s and depositing me at the A&E. I thought that was very helpful and I wonder whether the Minister thinks that might happen more often.’ 

Lord Kamall replied: ‘One of the interesting things that is being looked at as part of the overall review is how many of these cases can be actually treated at the scene without requiring the patient to be taken to hospital.’

** Have you suffered a similar 999 tragedy? Email [email protected] ** 

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