Alison Durkin, 61, had to be driven over 300 miles to find a hospital that would admit her, in England, the United Kingdom, in July 2022. (Matthew Newby, SWNS/Zenger)



By Simona Kitanovska

A seriously ill retired GP forced to wait outside her local hospital in the back of an ambulance had her life saved by her family – who drove her 300 miles to one in London instead.


Dr. Alison Durkin, 61, woke up with chest pains and called 999 (UK’s Emergency Services phone number) – but waited hours outside Royal Cornwall Hospital, located in the English county of Cornwall, in the United Kingdom.

The hospital has declared an internal ‘critical incident’ due to ‘acute pressure’ on beds – with patients forced to wait outside in queues of over 30 ambulances.

Eventually, she was discharged but her chest pain was worse the following day.

Alison and her husband Ross Durkin, 63, did some desperate research and found huge queues outside all major hospitals in England’s South West region.

They decided to drive 300 miles to the UK’s capital, to find a hospital in London in the hope of being seen faster.

On Thursday, July 14, Alison, who has suffered from long-term heart problems for many years, was admitted into London’s Charing Cross Hospital.

It had one ambulance outside, unlike the 33 they saw in Cornwall – and she was seen in ten minutes and remains in a serious condition.

Ross, of Helston, Cornwall, said: “After waiting for hours on Monday, Alison couldn’t face it again so we decided to drive to London.

“I was genuinely concerned Alison wasn’t going to make it. I thought it would be our last day together.

“When we got to Charing Cross and saw just one ambulance outside A&E compared to the 33 outside the hospital in Cornwall, my heart soared.

“Alison got seen within ten minutes of arriving. That’s how it should be.

“We were fortunate that we had the time and resources to embark on the journey to London, but not everyone can do that.

“I’m not sure whether she’d still be here to be honest, it’s not an easy thing to say.”

Alison, who retired as a GP in 1999 due to ongoing heart problems, found herself in pain on Monday, July 11 and called an ambulance.

After speaking to her GP, she called an ambulance and was taken to her local hospital, Royal Hospital Cornwall in Truro, in the UK.

But she was not admitted and instead spent the whole afternoon and evening in the back of the ambulance she arrived in.

Retired GP Alison Durkin, 61, who had to be driven over 300 miles to find a hospital that would admit her, in England, the United Kingdom, in July 2022. (Matthew Newby, SWNS/Zenger)

Eventually, Ross said she was seen by a junior doctor in the evening who discharged her, suggesting her issues were Covid symptoms, and returned home.

She woke up on Tuesday morning testing negative for Covid but feeling worse, so Ross checked the waiting times at other hospitals nearby.

He said: “We checked Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol but they were no better.

”Bristol Royal Infirmary told us there were 88 people in the queue for A&E [emergency admissions].

“The only answer was to go to and find a hospital where there wasn’t a massive queue outside and where she could actually get a decent quality of care.”

They spent the following two days attempting to get in touch with a London doctor who had previously treated Alison for her condition, but they were unable to arrange an appointment.

But on Thursday, July 14, they decided to travel to London anyway, in the hope of finding a hospital with less queues.

Ross said: “Should you ever find yourself in the position we were last Wednesday when you believe that if you do nothing the chances are that a loved one is going to die, you will probably come to the same conclusion that we did and go elsewhere.

Retired GP Alison Durkin, 61, who had to be driven over 300 miles to find a hospital that would admit her, and her husband Ross Durkin, 63, in England, the United Kingdom, in July 2022. (Matthew Newby, SWNS/Zenger)

“Charing Cross Hospital seemed easiest to get to so we went there and, on arrival at A&E [emergency admissions department], saw only one ambulance, compared with the 33 that saw we parked up outside Treliske.”

Alison was immediately whisked away within minutes of arrival – and was on a bed in the emergencies ward 20 minutes later, which is where she has remained since.

Ross described that they were “truly appalled” at the way things were handled at the hospital in Cornwall – and demands something must change.

He is in the process of writing to several local officials to tell their story in the hope something will be done.

He said: “I have nothing but praise for the poor ambulance drivers and trained paramedics who are currently spending their time sitting on the back step of their vehicles, unable to attend other emergencies because they are stuck in a queue.

“We were fortunate that we had the time and resources to embark on the journey to London that we did.

“But I dread to think what happens to the old folk around Cornwall who can’t travel… do they just accept their fate?

“If the situation wasn’t so preposterous it would be laughable.

“People in positions of authority need to start banging their heads together to find a way of resolving this.”

The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust apologized for the distress caused to Mrs. Durkin and her husband.

It said: “Our staff are working exceptionally hard in very difficult circumstances and will always make sure patients are assessed on their arrival at our emergency department and those most critically ill will be admitted right away.”

Cornwall Council, the body responsible for social care in the county, said it was “working closely with partners across the health and care sector to support people to leave hospital as soon as they can”.

It said recruitment in the sector continued “to be an issue”.

Produced in association with SWNS.

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