Derry wheelchair user Margaret Quigley who has lost both legs told ambulance could not take her for cataract operation: Ambulance Service says this was wrong

A Derry wheelchair user who has waited two years to get a cataract removed has had the operation cancelled because she was told she does not qualify for an ambulance.

Friday, 2nd July 2021, 6:03 pm

Margaret Quigley, from Westland Street, spoke this week about her frustration over the prospect of a further delay.

She told the ‘Journal’ surgery had been due to take place at the Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt next week.

But she was told that because she is not a ‘red flag’ patient, an ambulance cannot be released to take her over the Glenshane.

“It turns out I can’t get an ambulance at the moment for any appointments. A GP was trying to sort it out but she was told the only people getting an ambulance now are cancer patients. I don’t know who makes these decisions but it’s not happening,” she said.

The ‘Journal’ put Margaret’s case to the Ambulance Service (NIAS). Yesterday it said it would like to apologise to her and confirmed that she should have been offered transport in the first place.

“We are now aware of the lady’s individual circumstances and accept that transport should have been made available to her on this occasion.

“Currently we are investigating as to whether the full extent of her personal circumstances and transport requirements were made known to us at the time of the booking request,” it said.

Margaret said the only way she could possibly make the journey over the mountain - a round trip of at least two hours - would be in an ambulance.

The Bogside woman was born with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), a severe form of brittle bone disease, which led to the amputation of both of her legs a number of years ago.

“I got my right leg amputated first,” she explained. “I lost my balance and broke it. They said that because my bones were so weak and because of all the breakages I’ve had over the years, for them to try to put a plate or pins or anything else in they would do more damage, so they had to amputate it.

“My left leg broke itself while I was sleeping. It was the exact same break that happened my right and they had to take that one off as well.”

Margaret told the ‘Journal’ that the loss of both legs has put added strain on both her arms and back due to the physical effort of manoeuvring around her own home.

She suffers from arthritis of the spine and is in chronic pain. Margaret said she had been bewildered as to how someone in her position would not qualify for transport. “You have to be ‘red-flagged’ to get an ambulance. They have been trying to get me ‘red-flagged’ but they won’t do it. I don’t understand this ambulance thing. It’s the only way I can get there. They were talking about wheelchair accessible taxis or minibuses but I can’t sit up for long. I’ve been in agony since Sunday. I can’t get out of this bed at the minute. For me to have to sit and go that far and back again - I couldn’t do it. If there are any road works or anything....”

Margaret said that due to the initial refusal the surgery in Magherafelt next week that would have made a huge difference to her quality of life has been cancelled. A successful operation would allow her to read and view television subtitles during bouts of chronic pain when she is confined to a single room. Efforts are being made to reschedule an emergency operation closer to Derry she said.

Margaret said surgery would make a big difference.

“I got my right eye done two years ago. I’ve been waiting since then and it is getting worse.”

She said she’s been told a rescheduled slot may not happen until winter. She will still need an ambulance.

“We had to have Christmas dinner in here because I wasn’t able to get out of bed. I’m on strong enough painkillers and even taking them I’m in pain. Short of getting an ambulance I couldn’t make that journey.”

Councillor Sean Carr said: “She needs her eyesight for reading her books and the subtitles on the TV. Even for watching the monitor for her door. She can’t see it clearly because of the cataracts. She needs this operation.”

A Northern Ireland Ambulance Service spokesperson said it would like to apologise to Ms. Quigley.

“We are now aware of the lady’s individual circumstances and accept that transport should have been made available to her on this occasion. Currently we are investigating as to whether the full extent of her personal circumstances and transport requirements were made known to us at the time of the booking request.”

In November 2020 NIAS suspended non-emergency transport for outpatients but continued to provide essential non-emergency work including Health Care Professional (HCP) Urgent admissions.

“NIAS is also cognisant of the fact that a HCP may be aware of an essential medical requirement for non-emergency transport for a critical appointment and procedure and, as such, will endeavour to accept bookings for ambulance transport based on such information being shared with our non-emergency Control Centre.

“The case that has been brought to our attention would seem to fall into this category and when we have received more detail around the patient’s name and the date of the booking, we will be in a position to review the request to determine any future learning for similar situations.”