I listened to a radio interview today where it was stated that nothing has changed in A&E despite the Department of Health’s insistence that patients no longer have to wait long hours on a trolley for admission to hospital. My blood is still boiling.
Dr James Binchy of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E consultants, stated that Irish patients are dying unnecessarily due to delays and overcrowding in A&E. Many A&E departments continue to be unfit for purpose despite a damming report last year. Dr Binchy talked about feeling despondent when he arrives into work each day to face a backlog of patients still waiting for admission from the day before. He described how he endeavours to avoid eye contact with these patients, such is his despair at the conditions they must endure while they await a hospital bed. I’ve personally observed this avoidance tactic in A&E and I know exactly what it feels like from the patient’s perspective.
A year ago, my elderly father was rushed to hospital by cardiac ambulance from the nursing home where he resides in full-time care. He suffers from acute short-term memory loss and needs constance reassurance as to his whereabouts. Thankfully, his collapse was not as serious as first suspected but in order to ascertain this, he had to spend three days and nights on a hospital trolley in the busy A&E department of a large general hospital. He was thoroughly investigated and monitored but his surroundings caused him great anxiety and he became hugely confused during his stay. He was eventually discharged back to the nursing home, not because he was well but because they could no longer care for him in such an acute hospital setting. Luckily, my father is physically none the worse for this experience but to this day, he remains traumatised from having felt so lost in that A&E environment. He still phones me regularly to report “I’m in hospital for the night in case anyone is looking for me”. It’s sad and it sickens me to think of all the elderly people who are suffering this sort of abuse because of our third world hospital system.
Little or nothing has changed despite the urgent recommendations of the task force set up in 2006 after our Minister for Health, Mary Harney declared A&E overcrowding a “national emergency”. Dr Binchy makes the point that the delays in A&E are due to the backlog caused by a shortage of beds in the public system. He quantified this with figures which show that no patient in the hospital where he practices, had to wait overnight on a trolley for admission during the Christmas period. This is simply because elective admissions had been cancelled over Christmas thereby temporarily alleviating the bed shortage crisis.
And the moral of this story is? If you’re going to get sick and need emergency care, make sure you do it during a festive period unless you’re willing and able to rough it out in A&E.