Sunderland Navy veteran, 80, died after waiting two hours for ambulance to arrive following fall outside his birthday party

Wrapped in blankets and with his son lay next to him for warmth and support, a Royal Navy veteran lies in agony as he waits almost two hours for an ambulance after breaking his hip during a fall outside a party to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Thursday, 3rd May 2018, 12:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd May 2018, 2:51 pm

Sadly, Anthony Jose Mendez - known as Tony - would die in hospital from pneumonia ten days after the tragic mishap.

Ambulance bosses apologised to Mr Mendez’s family for delays in getting a crew to the popular pensioner during an inquest into his death.

Anthony Jose Mendez is kept warm by son John following a fall on January 3.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Mr Mendez was having a celebration at Ryhope Catholic Club to celebrate his milestone birthday on January 3 this year.

But on stepping out of the venue to have a cigarette, he fell and fractured his hip.

His concerned family called 999 for an ambulance to come and treat him, but it took almost two hours for one to arrive at the Dinsdale Street club.

One of Mr Mendez’s sons, John, even lay down with him to try and keep him warm.

Anthony Jose Mendez (front) surrounded by family at his 80th birthday party.

Sunderland-born Mr Mendez - a former lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy who turned 80 on January 5 - was admitted to Sunderland Royal Hospital where he was found to have some evidence of pneumonia in his lungs.

He underwent an operation on the fractured hip on January 4 and looked to be making “slow progress” as he recovered from the ordeal, an inquest at Sunderland Coroner’s Court heard.

However, he suffered a cardiac arrest while still in hospital on the evening of January 12 and died.

The inquest heard that the cause of Mr Mendez’s death was pneumonia, contributed to by diabetes, hyper-tension and the injury to his hip.

Giving evidence was Dr Robert Heycock, who treated Mr Mendez at the Royal, said surgery on his fractured hip was “slightly prolonged” but he was stable and back on a ward afterwards.

An x-ray he underwent on January 8 showed a pneumonia infection on the left lung, but he was continuing to improve.

“The plan was to mobilise him with physiotherapy,” said Dr Heycock.

On January 12 Mr Mendez, who lived in Hunter Terrace, Grangetown, suffered a choking episode when drinking some water.

His blood pressure dropped and his respiratory rate increased while another chest x-ray showed there was some change and a small amount of fluid on the left brace of his chest.

Asked by assistant coroner Karin Welch whether being less mobile after his surgery could have caused the onset of pneumonia, Dr Heycock replied: “I think that’s a very difficult question to answer in a straightforward way.

“It’s a risk.

Ms Welch added: “My second question is ‘did it?’

Dr Heycock replied: “Again that’s a very difficult question to answer.

“He had some sign of infection the day after surgery. However, he recovered from that and deteriorated again we saw days later.”

Mr Mendez suffered a cardiac arrest at 8.30pm on January 12 and could not be resuscitated by medics who attempted CPR.

Douglas McDougall, strategic head of operations at North East Ambulance Service, apologised to Mr Mendez’s family for the delay in getting an ambulance to him.

A first 999 call was made at 11.06pm and categorised as a C3 call by the handler, which is non life-threatening.

Following calls back to the control room it was later upgraded to a C2 call, putting it in the life-threatening category.

Calls of that nature should be met within 18 minutes, but no ambulance arrived to treat Mr Mendez until 12.53am.

Mr McDougall said: “At that moment in time we were particularly busy.

“We had 47 999 calls with no resources to send.

“We had a number of hospital turnaround delays and it was taking longer for the paramedics to transfer patients to the sites.

“The response was not timely enough and I can only apologise on behalf of the North East Ambulance Service for that.

“The ambulance would not have arrived any quicker due to the demand placed upon us at that time.

“The investigator’s report into the incident found that there were no missed opportunities to get there quicker.

Mr McDougall added that the level resource at the service will hopefully be improved in the near future.

“In October we were given funding to emmploy another 84 staff at the service and we currently have 28 paramedics vacancies at this time.

“However, it does take three years to train to be a paramedic.”

Recording a conclusion that Mr Mendez’s death was a result of an accident and contributed to by natural causes, Ms Welch said: “I believe the pneumonia was caused by lack of mobility following the operation.”

Mr Mendez’s son Francis said following the case that he had concerns over how calls to the ambulance service are handled, saying it had been a “very frustrating” experience.

Mr Mendez’s brother-in-law Thomas Martin, a former councillor and mayor of Sunderland, said: “We understand that at the time there was tremendous strain upon the ambulance service and the hospitals, but we feel it’s sad that after giving so much service to this country, he had to wait so long for an ambulance to arrive.”