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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 10:38 GMT
Hospital sorry for ambulance bill
Katie James
Katie James died within hours of arriving home
A hospital has apologised for charging the family of a cancer patient 135 for an ambulance to take her home to die.

Katie James, 20, who had a rare form of cancer, died last week two-and-a-half hours after being taken home to Caerau, Cardiff, by private ambulance.

Staff at Velindre Hospital had said no NHS ambulance was available - but later apologised unreservedly and said there will be an internal review.

UK government Health Secretary Dr John Reid said it was "inexcusable".

Ms James died last week after being treated for 18 months for Ewing's Sarcoma - a rare form of cancer which had spread to her lungs.

Sharon James
Sharon James had to wait for an ambulance to bring Katie home

Nearly two weeks ago, her condition deteriorated and she decided that she wanted to go home to be with her family.

But the hospital, in Whitchurch, Cardiff, told the family there was no NHS ambulance available to take her the three miles home.

The bill for a private ambulance was paid by Ms James' grandmother, Cynthia James.

Two-and-a-half hours after arriving home, Ms James died. Her funeral was held on Friday.

Ms James' mother, Sharon James, said the family was "angry" at the hospital's refusal of an ambulance.

She said: "I had a car outside, but they wouldn't allow me to bring her home in a car because of the oxygen. All I wanted was just to bring her home.

It is by no way typical of our National Health Service and the people who work in it
Dr John Reid
Health Secretary

"We were supposed to pick her up at 12 o'clock on the Thursday, so we could have had all day with my daughter at home.

"It's so sad because she could have spent the whole day with her family. But she just had to sit there waiting for an ambulance to bring her home.

"We didn't get her home until 8pm. It was unbelievable. I was fuming."

Sharon James paid tribute to her daughter, describing her as "bubbly" and "beautiful".

"She had more courage than I'll ever know anyone to have. She just lit up a room and she'll just be so missed."

'Unreserved apology'

Dr Reid told BBC News that the incident "should never have happened".

Katie James' home
Katie's family had put up Christmas decorations for her return home

He added: "I hope people understand it is by no way typical of our National Health Service and the people who work in it, who go to extraordinary lengths to comfort and help people."

In a statement, Chief Executive of Velindre NHS Trust, Paul Miller, apologised to the family.

He said: "Velindre NHS Trust has offered an unreserved apology to the family for this distressing incident.

"We accept we did not meet the needs of this family at this time of deep distress and our thoughts are with them."

Promising an internal review, Mr Miller stressed that it was not the hospital's "usual practice" for patients to pay for their own ambulances.

Commenting on the incident, a Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said: "The situation is totally unacceptable.

"The Trust is well aware of our views and has issued an unreserved apology.

"They have rectified the situation so that it never happens again."

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