A coroner has criticised the ambulance service after an elderly woman, who fell and waited two hours for an ambulance, died.

Barbara Howard, 68, fell at her home in The Quadrant, Worthing, before a neighbour rang for an ambulance.

Despite repeated calls Mrs Howard had to wait an hour and 50 minutes before an ambulance arrived and she was taken to hospital on July 19 2017 and died the next day.

West Sussex assistant coroner Joanne Andrews raised concerns over South East Coast Ambulance Service’s (SECAmb) handling of the call in a report and demanded they respond with how they would prevent future deaths. The report said Chichester and Worthing areas had 30-40 staff vacancies, which equated to two ambulances and one car short. Currently the area has 14 paramedics short equating to one ambulance per day.

Concern was expressed how when the national target time, 30 minutes had passed, a clinician did not ring Mrs Howard to assess the priority of the call. The emergency operation centre was 15 clinicians short. SECAmb’s audit of calls was also shown to be only 60 percent on target.

An inquest in November heard Mrs Howard was found by a neighbour on the floor at her home after falling. They rang the ambulance at 7.36pm and the call was graded to Green 2 requiring a 30 minute response time.

At 8.03pm neighbours made a second call to establish when the ambulance would arrive. At 8.46pm a single response car paramedic was sent to her home who called for backup at 8.50pm. But backup never arrived on scene until 9.26pm (36 minutes later) when SECAmb policy said it should have arrived with eight minutes.

Mrs Howard died the next day in hospital from a subdural haematoma, which is usually associated with a traumatic brain injury.

Speaking to The Argus Mrs Howard’s neighbours who waited with her till an ambulance arrived said they were shocked with how long it took for the ambulance to come to the house. Rhiannon Power, 29, said: “It was disgusting. Even if they had sent the first responder out in that first hour, there should have been something.”

A SECAmb spokesman said: "We are very sorry that we were not able to attend Mrs Howard more quickly and our thoughts are with her family and friends. We are very aware of the areas raised by the coroner and we were already addressing these before they were highlighted at the inquest. We do, however, take this report very seriously.

"Along with other ambulance services nationally we are recruiting to address a national shortfall in paramedics. We have reduced the number of vacancies in the Chichester and Worthing area since the inquest to 14 – seven of which will be filled by qualifying students shortly.

"We have created new vacancies to alleviate the pressure on paramedics and we are also working hard to increase the number of clinicians in our Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs). We also have a structured plan in place to improve the call audit process in our EOCs."