Are Ireland’s hospitals in poor health?


CARA WYNNE shines a troubling light on the current situation in the emergency departments of Irish hospitals
IN April 2018 my dad, Tom, died on a trolley in a corridor in the emergency department (ED) of University Hospital Limerick (UHL). He had arrived 36 hours previously by ambulance from his home. His last hours were spent in discomfort, stripped of all dignity and humanity in an overcrowded and unsafe environment. He was unable to sleep or gain any comfort.
The ED in UHL is staffed by nurses, doctors, auxiliary staff who are overworked, underpaid and not shown the care that they deserve from the hospital trust, the government, politicians of all parties and the mainstream media in Ireland. While my dad was in ED, we—as a family—were assured that they had a full complement of staff. However, records have since shown that this was not in fact the case and the department at that time was severely under resourced due to a number of issues.
My family’s experience of the ED in those 36 hours was one of complete disarray and chaos—not what is expected of an Ireland which portrays itself as forward-thinking, caring and a great place to live.
There is no place for family members to wait in any sort of comfort with their loved ones in the corridors of the ED. Patients on trolleys/wheelchairs are unable to rest or sleep for any period of time due to the conditions within the ED from the bright lighting constantly on overhead and the fact that there are other patients who have been left on trolleys or in wheelchairs which, due to numbers, are lined up on both sides of the corridors. This leaves no room for the free movement of medical or cleaning equipment and patients are constantly being moved within these areas to allow passage of this equipment at all hours of the day and night.
Patients are assessed by medical professionals in those same corridors and are afforded no privacy to discuss what could be serious, personal and private medical issues. Patients who are unable to make their way to toilet facilities within the ED and ask for assistance are provided with bedpans or urine bottles to use. However, at no time are these patients offered any privacy or provided with screens or any other privacy measures.
Nationwide problem?
From my own research into the trolley crisis within the Health Service Executive (HSE) over the last number of months, I have become aware that the above scenario is replicated up and down the country on a daily basis and is reflected in the ED Trolley Watch/Ward Watch figures provided by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO). For example on January 15, 2019, there were 598 people on trollies and on January 16, 2019, there were 535 people—16 of which were children. This is replicated across Ireland and these patients are languishing in corridors of emergency departments and wards when they are at their most vulnerable (above).
If you do a quick search of the media outlets across Ireland you will see very little by way of comment, investigative journalism or opinion pieces as to what is going on in our hospital EDs apart from the very odd headline once in a while around trolley numbers. Why is this? Why is there very little will from the media in Ireland to ask difficult questions of our elected representatives within the Dáil and Seanad as to the ongoing trolley crisis within our hospitals?
There also seems to be little or no political will from parties across Ireland to ask difficult questions of Simon Harris or Leo Varadkar as to what is actually going within the HSE. It is an executive that is lurching from one crisis to another, such as the cervical cancer scandal, scoliosis scandal and mental health crisis to name but a few, which have been the focal point for pressure groups and local activism across communities in Ireland.
There appears to be a general apathy towards the state of the HSE in Ireland from the media and political parties unless there is a quick headline to be written or point-scoring exercise to be had. This is wrong.
Our family, friends, neighbours and colleagues deserve to have a HSE that is fit for purpose at the point of entry in the system and provides dignity, respect and compassion to patients and their families throughout their time in hospital and afterwards. Our nurses, doctors and auxiliary staff deserve a HSE that respects them, pays them what they are worth and ensures the HSE is adequately funded and provides the best level of care that it can to both patients and staff.
We have to say enough is enough and start asking those difficult questions of our TD’s, senators and media and shine a light on the HSE to improve the service for all so people are no longer treated in such an inhumane fashion.