My wife lay dying in my arms as 999 call handler asked stupid questions, says Lord Winston | The Sun

A BRITISH scientist has criticised a 999 call handler for wasting time while his wife lay dying in his arms.

Lord Robert Winston, an IVF pioneer, was desperately trying to get help for his wife of 49 years, Lira Feigenbaum, who had suffered a cardiac arrest.


But the fertility expert and BBC broadcaster said an ambulance had still not been called after he was asked a “litany of questions”.

Lord Winston said such a “waste of time” was critical when seconds count in dealing with a cardiac arrest.

The Labour peer spoke of the deeply traumatic experience as the House of Lords heard that “thousands” of people were dying because of delays to the arrival of paramedics.

Paramedics are being held up in slow handovers in hospitals. 

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People are calling 999 and waiting longer than they should because paramedics are unable to get back into ambulances and on the road. 

Speaking in the chamber, Lord Winston, a Labour peer, said: “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.

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“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, who shares three children with his wife, added: “Can the minister assure the House 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?

“It is highly dangerous and that makes it very difficult.

“The last thing we hear as we die is usually the voice of someone who is with us.”

Lord Winston's story experience is one among many highlighting failures in emergency care.

NHS England says trusts should answer 999 calls within ten seconds.

But in April, more than 37,000 people waited two minutes or longer for an answer, compared to 1,500 in April 2021, according to the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives.

A Category 1 (life threatening) call, such as cardiac arrest, has a target ambulance response time of seven minutes.

Every second counts in an emergency, yet many people are now routinely waiting more than an hour for care.

The Sun on Sunday revealed in May that your postcode can add up to 30 minutes to the time it takes for an ambulance to arrive — and patients in Wales have waited 30 hours to reach A&E.

'Too many incidents'

Thanking the peer for sharing his “very personal story”, health minister Lord Kamall said: “Clearly, there are too many incidents of this kind.

“Probably in that case the person was trained to ask particular questions to ascertain how serious or urgent it was but, clearly, that was inappropriate. 

“I will take that case back to the department and see whether I can get some answers.”

Labour peer Lord Young of Norwood Green highlighted the case of another member whose son had to wait nearly six hours for emergency assistance after suffering a stroke.

He said: “People are dying as we sit in this chamber, literally thousands of them. Why? Because paramedics are waiting with trolleys in hospitals for a bed.

“Yet, still we do not seem to treat this as a matter of urgency.

“It is a national disgrace and I want an assurance from the minister that real action is to be taken.”

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Responding, Lord Kamall pointed to an NHS action plan for urgent and emergency care.

The minister added: “I understand that he thinks it is unsatisfactory, but we have been hit by the pandemic, we are trying to recover and there is a plan.”

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