THERE’S rarely a week that goes by without someone stopping me on the street to talk about the hospital. “Let’s hope you never have to go out there yourself” they say laughing. I reply with something like “oh I’ll wear a disguise”, but every time I actually think to myself… the point of all these stories is to give them better conditions. I have personally written about 200 stories about the hospital, probably more but definitely not less, and it never seems like things are improving. We have written stories from the perspective of doctors, nurses and patients, each one scarier than the next. In the early days, I thought that these stories would change everything. I thought they’d be explosive. It didn’t take me too long to realise that they were just tiny drops in the ocean.
I thought, when I wrote about doctors performing life altering surgeries after only two hours sleep (after previously finishing a 16 hour day), it would change things. I wrote it, and I expected all hell to break loose. But it didn’t. In fact, I heard nothing about it after it appeared in the paper.
I thought, when I wrote about the nurse who received an official warning after making a mistake, following her 9th 12 hour shift in a row that people would say “enough is enough” and demand action. But nothing happened.
I thought, when we ran a front page story in 2015 with the headline “UHW is not safe”, that something would be done. It outlined two human errors, one of which led to the death of a patient. I know there was a HSE investigation, but I have no idea what came of it, and actually have no confidence that anything happened at all.
Last week we reported on two patients who died shortly after being sent home from the area of the hospital that’s mentioned in the paper more than any other – the Emergency Department. I’m sure there are mumblings out in the hospital about it and maybe there will be an enquiry, but I have no doubt that the same thing will happen again in months or possibly weeks from now.
My Dad, like so many other people in the country, has cancer. Unfortunately, due to persistent complications, he has to keep going back to the hospital, often carrying a bag of blood from his waist. In a first world country, which Ireland pretends to be but is actually not – he would go straight to the relevant department and as soon as he reveals his name, all his information will appear and they will know what to do with him immediately.
Instead, here’s what happens in Ireland: he has to go through the Emergency Department as if he just had a fall on the street. To the staff down there, he’s just another patient. Last week he had to wait down there for 10 hours, and they hadn’t a clue who he was or why he was there. It’s hard to believe that with something so serious as our health, systems can be so inept. It’s a measure – one of a multitude – of how bad a health system is when cancer patients are made to wait in a high pressure emergency department, every single time they have to go back to the hospital with an issue.
A few years ago, I spoke to Emergency Department consultant Brendan McCann in an interview that I have referred to multiple times since. Speaking about the ED, Dr McCann said, “The Emergency Department has 20 cubicles and we would regularly have more than 20 patients in the department. It’s like 80 customers coming into a restaurant that’s already full – they have to be served but there’s nowhere to put them and nobody to cook for them.”
The interview was about four years ago, and even though we could have interviewed him since, there wouldn’t have been any point because he would have just been repeating himself. He also said at the time, “The notion that staffing in a hospital should be Monday to Friday, 9-5, is outdated. The footfall here after 5pm in the evening is significant. This is partly due to a change in society where two parents in a family are now working and if they have a sick child or something happens in the day they go to Caredoc and then to UHW. 25 years ago, very little happened after 5pm in a hospital, but that has all changed, except hospital practices have not changed with it.”
You think anything changed? Of course it didn’t. He also said this: “A recent patient who spent some time in the Emergency Department remarked that it was like a war-zone. He couldn’t understand why more people weren’t screaming about what was happening, and I agree with him. This issue makes the front pages of a newspaper every so often and then it’s forgotten about. These patients are sitting in a war zone and these nurses are trying to do miraculous work in torturous and impossible conditions.”
I was recently accused of being sensationalist because I used the headline “ED is like a warzone” – but any time I talk to a staff member in the ED that’s exactly what they say. I believe that the only way things will change is if everyone decides that they’ve had enough. It’s not good enough that people only seem to care about what happens in that hospital when it arrives on their door. Or as I have said before on this column – nobody cares about the monster under the bed, until it’s under their own bed. The fact of the matter is that you will have to deal with it soon. Everyone does. And it’s only then, when you see nurses running around in a panic, when you see patients laying (not sleeping) on trolleys under bright lights and when you see the health service for what it is – broken – that you will realise why the hospital has been on our front page so often.