An elderly woman has died of heart failure after an NHS 111 call handler wrongly assumed she was suffering from coronavirus symptoms.

In September, last year, Patricia Douglas from Penrith was rushed to hospital with severe breathlessness, while at A&E she collapsed and could not be resuscitated.

Dr Nicholas Shaw, assistant coroner for Cumbria, has now called for a change in the guidance after the 76-year-old failed to get the treatment she needed.

An inquest report published earlier this month has revealed how Mrs Douglas called the NHS 111 service at 11.49am on Sunday, September 27 having suffered severe breathlessness.

The report reads: “Reporting that she had experienced similar symptoms two weeks previously and had been very anaemic requiring a blood transfusion.

“The call handler’s questioning took her down a route that ended in a suspicion that the symptoms may be due to Covid-19 and Mrs Douglas was informed

that a doctor from the Covid Clinical Assessment service (CCAS) would call her back. “

A GP from the CCAS then tried to call her back three times between 1.30pm and 1.38pm but was unable to do so, believing that her number was engaged - it was later revealed her telephone number had not been fully recorded on the NHS 111 service.

The next day, on September 28, Mrs Douglas’s condition worsened and her and her husband contacted the GP who arranged for an emergency ambulance.

Mrs Douglas was taken to the A&E department at the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, arriving at 10.03am - less than 24 hours after the first call was made to NHS 111.

The report continues: “She collapsed during initial assessment and could not be resuscitated.”

A post mortem showed that Mrs Douglas had “severe coronary atherosclerosis and a complete blockage of one artery.”

She tested negative for Covid-19.

Following the inquest, Dr Shaw concluded that a number of opportunities to treat Mrs Douglas had been “missed” and that changes could be made to prevent future deaths in this way.

Dr Shaw said in his report: “The initial assessment by the NHS 111 call handler led her down a pathway leading to a referral to the Covid service and does not seem to have given weight to the history of anaemia and transfusion. Could the pathway be improved to give better guidance to call handlers?

“This lady rang for help feeling very unwell, I am told she wanted a doctor to visit, unfortunately, nothing happened and it seems very likely that an opportunity to investigate and treat her was missed.”

Professor Helen Young, senior responsible officer for NHS111 Covid Response Service/Chief Nurse SCAS, said: “This is a tragic case and our sympathies and thoughts are very much with Mrs Douglas’s family at this time.

“Following notification of Mrs Douglas’s death, we took immediate action to review and strengthen the processes of doctors in the Covid Clinical Assessment Service follow and ensured any learning was shared with staff. We have responded directly to the coroner regarding his concerns, are investigating further and will ensure any additional action or improvements take place as a result.”

Victoria Watkins, lead for urgent care and deputy chief inspector primary medical services and integrated care north, CQC said: “We are aware a patient sadly died after contacting NHS 111 on Sunday, 27 September 2020. 

“We are working with the provider to ensure the safety of people using this service.

“It is important that providers have processes and systems in place to respond to serious incidents so that lessons can be learnt, and necessary changes made, so that people get the care they deserve.”