A former Christian missionary died after waiting more than an hour for an ambulance because there are no longer enough paramedics to go around, an inquest heard.

The family of Nicolette Clarke made desperate phone calls to London Ambulance Service (LAS) as they watched the 49-year-old Worcester Park woman deteriorate until her heart stopped on September 17 last year only to be told no ambulances were available until it was too late.

Miss Clarke's family say they have been left feeling let down by the authorities in the wake of her death.

Your Local Guardian:

Nicolette Clarke

Miss Clarke lived with her mum Joyce and sister Debby in St Philips Avenue and suffered from diabetes that caused a kidney infection in August last year. She was released from hospital but complained of nausea and a lack of appetite.

Her sister found Miss Clarke in bed at 11.45pm on September 16. She told the inquest, held at Westminster Coroner's Court on Friday, she looked "pale and grey" and said she was not feeling well. She gave her two doses of insulin but her condition did not improve so, at midnight, her mum dialled 999.

Miss Clarke was put in the C1 category, which LAS aims to attend within 20 minutes, although this standard is only achieved in around 65 per cent of cases.

Miss Clarke's mum called 999 after 30 minutes to find out where the ambulance was only to hear one had not been dispatched because of high demand. Miss Clarke's case was not reclassified after the second call as her condition had not changed.

However, by midnight Miss Clarke had lost consciousness so a third call mas made to 999 but she was still not reclassified.

It was not until 1.19am that a paramedic arrived at the scene - by which time Miss Clarke's heart had stopped. She was taken to hospital but died on September 28 because of damage her brain sustained while her heart was not beating.

Your Local Guardian: Fionna Moore

Dr Fionna Moore

Dr Fionna Moore, medical director at LAS, said: "It has become apparent that we give a poorer response time in the last 12 months - our staff are exceptionally highly utilised.

"It means there are always calls waiting for ambulances. Four years ago we thought we were busy if we had 900 category A [the most critical] calls in a day. This weekend we had 1,400 on each day. There is a national shortage of paramedics."

The inquest heard if the ambulance had met its target time, Miss Clarke would have arrived at hospital as her heart stopped. Although there is no data for survival rates following cardiac arrests in ambulances, it is accepted that survival rates are increased among those whose hearts stop in hospital. 

Coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe said: "Even if the ambulance had come earlier there is no way we can say she would have had a different outcome. Yes, she would have had more specialist help on hand but the survival rates following cardiac arrest are still poor."

She recorded a narrative verdict referencing ambulance delays and Miss Clarke's health problems and said it was not for her to investigate the state of the ambulance service but suggested people contact their MPs to call for increased funding.

Following the hearing, Miss Clarke's sister Debby said: "I feel let down. We're not out here for compensation or anything like that, we just want things to change but it doesn't feel like that's going to happen. Everyone just seems to have accepted what happened.

"Nicky was a person who would do anything for anyone. She was mischievous, had a wonderful sense of humour, was very caring, loving, creative and artistic. When she needed help, after helping others so selflessly, it just seemed that no one was available to help her in her time of need.

"We were always extremely close. She was not just my sister, but my very best friend. As a family, the three of us have gone through some very hard times but we stuck together and helped each other through them all. We feel incomplete without her".