A Long Time Waiting

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.

6 Responses to A Long Time Waiting

  1. Baino says:

    Often the same here Steph so the State Government (responsible for state health care) are trying two new tactics:

    Outpatient clinics for those who need emergency attendance but not a hospital stay. The idea being that those who turn up at A & E units for snots, sniffles and scrapes can present at the alternative clinics. Many people who go to casualty are actually not ‘real’ casualties.

    Improving staffing at public hospitals. The hospital bed situation is still difficult. We have the beds, just not the staff to monitor them so there’s a huge initiative to encourage experienced nursing staff back to work and to encourage people into the profession. Sadly, it’s poorly paid for the conditions and not an attractive proposition for many. . If you’re a nurse, come over to Oz, we need you!

  2. Steph says:

    Baino, the only tactic our government is trying is one of bleeding the public health service to death so that more people will turn to private (for-profit) health care facilities. Even if there were enough beds, there’s no way they’d provide the funding to staff them! This government is giving incentives for exactly the wrong type of health care and the problems in the public health service of inaccessibility, inefficiency, unfairness and uneven quality are set to continue.

  3. Grannymar says:

    We hear dreadful stories about the NHS here in NI and on Mainland Uk. I have had reason to visit hospitals here over several years for various reasons. 999 trips via Ambulance took me past the normal A&E and no need for triage, Walk-in A&E when I broke my wrist had what I call a normal delay but no way near the horror stories that I have heard others talk about. Arranged appointments are where we fall down, patients are left sitting and no reason given of why there is a delay.

  4. Steph says:

    And Grannymar, often, no apology is given either 😉

    I heard a man last week talk about being brought to A&E by ambulance (in Dublin) having collapsed in a restaurant through illness – not drink. Despite being brought in by ambulance, he was left lying on a trolley for 13 hours (in his own vomit) without being seen by a doctor. He finally discharged himself and went to a private A&E clinic to get checked out. I know that certain conditions will always get priority and quite rightly so, but it seems that the rest just have to rough it out. I feel very sorry for the people working in A&E as it must break their hearts watching people suffer because of bed shortages and lack of staff.

  5. Caoimhin says:

    It may be a new year; but, it’s the same old story in Irish health care! 😦

  6. Steph says:

    Too true, Caoimhin. You probably heard Liam Doran, general Secretary INO, say yesterday that trolley count figures have actually risen again as a result of the health cutbacks. So the HSE will continue to manipulate the figures while the old and the sick continue to suffer. Depressing!

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