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Seriously ill wait more than hour for ambulance

Thousands of emergency calls are taking ambulance crews more than an hour to reach, a BBC investigation shows.

The delays – affecting one in 16 calls in England for conditions such as strokes, heart attacks and fits – are putting lives at risk, experts say.

It amounts to over 4,000 “unacceptably” long waits a week for the second-highest category 999 calls. Wales also reported significant problems.

NHS bosses blamed rising demand and delays handing over patients at A&E.

Many ambulance services have increased staffing – only to find the extra resource largely being swallowed up by the rise in delays faced by crews queuing outside hospitals.

This has meant they have had to prioritise the most serious immediately life-threatening cases, such as cardiac arrests.

But these represent just a small proportion of the high-priority 999 calls.

Some of the longest waits exceeded five hours – crews are meant to arrive within 18 minutes on average.

‘My partner died while waiting’

Derrin Cozart, 55, was at home in Northumberland on his own last year when he collapsed. He came to and rang 999.

That was the last time anyone spoke to him.

It was over an hour before an ambulance crew arrived. By the time they did, he was dead.

He had suffered a gastrointestinal haemorrhage, which causes internal bleeding.

Thirty minutes after his call the ambulance service had rung back, but could not get hold of him.

It took another 48 minutes for paramedics to reach him – two crews had to be diverted while they were on their way.

His partner, Mark Mitchell, was out of the country on business at the time.

“It was devastating. I’ve been left wondering if the ambulance had got there more quickly he may have survived.

“We just don’t know – and that’s heartbreaking.”

The North East Ambulance Service said a full investigation was being carried out into the case.

Patients ‘let down badly’

The BBC investigation, which used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain data, has also uncovered other worrying cases, including a 70-year-old man who waited more than two hours after suffering a heart attack – he was taken to hospital and then faced even more delays before he could be admitted on to a ward

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said patients were being “let down badly at their moment of greatest need” and getting a quick response could be “a matter of life or death”.

She said the delays were “undoubtedly” related to the sustained underfunding of the NHS.

Mark MacDonald, of the Stroke Association, described the findings as “alarming”, saying a quick assessment and transfer to hospital for brain scans was vital if a patient was going to make a good recovery.

“When stroke strikes, part of your brain shuts down. And so does a part of you. Around two million neurons are lost every minute that a stroke is untreated.”

How many long waits are there?

Chart showing regional ambulance performance

The BBC asked for long waits for the two highest priority groups of 999 calls – the immediately life-threatening category ones and the emergency category two cases – from the start of 2018 when a new system of measuring response times came in.

Two of England’s 10 ambulance services – the West Midlands and East of England – refused to provide the information.

Long waits for immediately life-threatening cases were unusual – just one in 270 cases took longer than 30 minutes to reach. That works out at less than 40 a week.

But the records for category two call logs showed long waits for these emergencies were much more common.

The data showed there were 385,000 waits of over an hour from January 2018 to September 2019 out of just over six million incidents responded to.

That works out at more than 4,000 a week on average – or one in 16 calls.

East Midlands Ambulance Service had the greatest number of long delays – one in eight calls took over an hour.

Director of operations Ben Holdaway said crews were often facing long waits at A&E to hand over patients which means they “haven’t been able to get back on the road quickly”.

“Every part of the system wants to tackle these issues, but it’s clear we need more staff and beds and well-functioning social care.”

In Wales there were more than 1,000 cases a week on average – nearly a quarter of callouts – although their second-tier emergency calls category is a little broader than England’s and includes less urgent cases like diabetes complications which could account for some of the long waits.

Lee Brooks, from the Welsh Ambulance Service, accepted that some patients were waiting too long, describing it as as “frustrating for staff as it is for patients”.

Ministers are in the process of setting up a taskforce to tackle the delays.

Comparable data was not available in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

NHS national ambulance adviser Anthony Marsh said: “It is not easy to reach everyone as quickly as we would all like. All our staff are working flat out.”

The Department of Health and Social Care in England said the government was increasing funding for the health service and had set aside a dedicated pot to invest in ambulance services.

It also said it was investing in the workforce – from September student paramedics will be entitled to a £5,000-a-year grant to support them during their studies.

Data analysis by Felix Stephenson and Christine Jeavans



Nikon to buy optical imaging player Optos for $400M in med tech expansion bid

Nikon will acquire the Optos Group for £259.3 million ($400 million) as part of its long-term plan to expand into the medical sector. Last June, the long-suffering camera giant restructured and unveiled a plan to establish itself again as a growth company–part of that is to leverage its optical technologies to expand into the medical industry.


The Tokyo-based conglomerate hopes the Optos acquisition will serve as a platform for its expansion into medical technology. It plans to expand into internal diagnostics, ophthalmology treatment and regenerative medicine such as retina regeneration. Nikon also anticipates that it can use the deal as the basis for technology partnerships. It sees Optos’ ultrawidefield technologies with optical coherence tomography imaging technology as having the potential be combined with other tech to create precise, minimally invasive medical devices.


Nikon President Kazuo Ushida


“I am confident that an Optos/Nikon combination would create a world class ‘retina’ player and would significantly benefit our respective stakeholders. Together, we will pursue various collaboration opportunities and further expand the medical business in the future,” Kazuo Ushida, President of Nikon, said in a statement.

Optos markets the Optomap technology, which is used by ophthalmologists to capture a detailed image of the retina that is used to diagnose disease. It also has next-gen ultrawidefield diagnostic products that are smaller and more portable including the Daytona and the California.


In the year ending Sept. 30, Scotland-based Optos had about $170.6 million in revenues with an operating profit of about $16.3 million. The deal values Optos at 30.5% above its prior market close on Feb. 26. An Optos shareholder Aberforth Partners, which holds about 13.1% of the company, has indicated it’s in favor of the deal. The company first listed publicly in 2006.


Nikon had revenues of ¥981 billion ($9.5 billion) for the year ended March 31, with an operating income of ¥63 billion ($612 million) for that period. It is divided into the following segments: Imaging Products Business, a Precision Equipment Business, an Instruments Business and Other Businesses, including medical, encoders, ophthalmic lenses, customized products and glass businesses.


Nikon, which is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, has a market capitalization of ¥617 billion ($5.2 billion).


Optimistic Optos shareholders may be looking for a white knight competitor to enter the deal; they drove Optos’ up above the offer price of 340 pence to 341.17 pence on the London Stock Exchange in response to the deal news.






Telescopic Contact Lens Zooms In With A Wink

Telescopic contact lens

The prototype device. Pic: Eric Tremblay and Joe Ford. Courtesy of EPFL.

A telescopic contact lens that can zoom in and out with the wink of an eye has been unveiled by researchers.

The latest prototype, which offers hope to some of the 285 million people estimated to be visually impaired worldwide, was revealed at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in California.

The 1.55mm thick lens contains an extremely thin, reflective telescope.

Small mirrors inside bounce light around, expanding the perceived size of objects and magnifying the view, similar to looking through low-magnification binoculars.

Telescopic contact lens

The 1.55mm-thick lens. Pic: Eric Tremblay and Joe Ford. Courtesy of EPFL.

Optics specialist Eric Tremblay from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland also debuted complementary smart glasses that recognise winks – but ignore blinks – allowing the wearer of the contact lenses to switch between normal and magnified vision.

The user winks with their right eye for magnification and the left for normal vision.

First released in 2013 and refined since then, the hi-tech optical device magnifies objects 2.8 times.

Mr Tremblay said: “We think these lenses hold a lot of promise for low vision and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).”

The sight disorder is the leading cause of blindness among older people in the West.

Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the lenses were meant to serve as a form of bionic vision for soldiers.

Mr Tremblay stressed the device was still at the research stage, but was hopeful it could eventually become a “real option” for people with AMD.

He said: “It’s very important and hard to strike a balance between function and the social costs of wearing any kind of bulky visual device.

“There is a strong need for something more integrated, and a contact lens is an attractive direction.”

The telescopic contacts are currently made using a rigid “scleral” lens, unlike the soft contacts most people wear.

And while larger, Mr Tremblay said they were safe and comfortable.

The lenses are made from several precision-cut pieces of plastic, aluminium mirrors and polarising thin films, along with biologically safe glues.

Because the eye needs a steady supply of oxygen, the scientists have worked to make the device more breathable, using tiny air channels roughly 0.1mm wide within the lens.

The research team, which includes the University of California, San Diego, as well as experts at Paragon Vision Sciences, Innovega, Pacific Sciences and Engineering, and Rockwell Collins, said the device represented a “huge leap” forward.

There are glasses already on the market for people with AMD that have mounted telescopes, but tend to be bulky and difficult to use.

They also do not track eye movement, so the wearer has to tilt their head and position their eyes in a certain way to use them.


Scanadu: The ‘Star Trek’ Medical Tricorder Becomes a Reality


Star Trek type tricorder is now a reality with Scanadu

In 2013, a man bilked investors into funding a medical device that worked like the Star Trek tricorder. He even named it after the grumpy doctor who used in on the iconic show — The “McCoy Home Health Tablet.”The man’s “investment opportunity” was a scam, and according to the National Post, he was convicted for bilking people out of their money. However, just a little over a year later, a new tricorder like device, called the Scanadu Scout, has become a reality. And it works.

The device, pictured below, works by placing it on a patient’s forehead. In a matter of seconds, a sensor measures vitals such as heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen levels. It even provides a complete ECG reading.

Scanadu medical scanner

Scanadu medical scanner.