Overcrowding in Leeside hospitals: some possible long term side effects

I wrote this article on 18th April 2017. It was published by “The Evening Echo” on 2nd May 2017.

Whilst driving my daughter to creche this morning, I heard a report on the radio about overcrowding at Cork University Hospital. Mary Rose Carroll from the INMO spoke about the lack of capacity and resources at the emergency department at the CUH and stated that a review of how care is being delivered in Cork hospitals needs to be carried out.

This lead me to think about my daughter’s experience in a Cork hospital’s emergency department a few weeks ago. I also began to question the possible long term effects that a failing health care system could have on Irish society.

My two year old daughter fell and hurt her right foot and was unable to stand on it. It was obvious she was in distress so we brought her to SouthDoc that same Saturday evening. The GP explained she may simply have sprained her ankle or there may be a fracture or a broken bone. We were given a referral letter and told to bring her to either of the emergency departments at the CUH or The Mercy. 

From here began a series of unfortunate events. The GP advised that on a Saturday night, the accident and emergency departments would be busy and would be dealing with traumas that may be unsuitable for a young child to be around so it might be better that we wait until Sunday morning.

On a Sunday morning, one would think that my daughter would have been assessed, x-rayed and treated in the space of approximately two hours. Her injury was straight forward and easy to treat.

We spent six and a half hours at the emergency department with a toddler who was tired and sore. She received good care and attention from the staff on duty but it was obvious that the emergency department was under resourced. My daughter left with a support bandage on her leg. We were told that the radiographer did not get a chance to report on whether or not she had a fracture or a break and that we needed to come back with our daughter on Monday morning to be reassessed when the radiographer’s report was available.

On Monday morning, we returned and were told my daughter had a fractured foot and that her leg would need to be set in a cast for three weeks. My two year old daughter waited two days to receive treatment for a straight forward injury.

I was not unhappy with the care my daughter received from the medical professions that we dealt with. They cared for her as best they could with the resources available to them. It seemed to me that there simply weren’t enough medical staff available to treat patients. The emergency department seemed to be running on a skeleton staff who were stretched beyond their limits.

In any organisation, if employees are demotivated and over-stretched, they look elsewhere for work. The medical talent in our country will leave and seek employment opportunities abroad. We may end up in a situation where there is a lack of consistency and continuity of expertise in our health care system.

What concerned me was the expectation that I accept that my child should wait until the next day to go to an emergency department because on a Saturday night, she will probably not be seen. Why did I accept that this was normal or standard?  One could argue that we could have brought her to a private clinic and that she would have been seen and treated within an hour. This does not address the issue. If, as a country, we flood the private health care market, we marginalise those who cannot afford to pay for health treatments. We will become like our neighbours in the U.S., where those who “have” are entitled to lead healthier lives than those who “have not”.

If there is a large increase in the volume of Irish people opting for private health care, waiting lists and treatment times will inevitably increase in the private health care sector. We will simply be shifting the problem from the HSE to private healthcare providers resulting in a rise in the cost of healthcare insurance premiums. The “squeezed middle” may be squashed even further and public hospitals will be under-resourced even further than they are now.

Our experiences raised other questions in my mind. If one of the major training hospitals in Cork City is under resourced, what experiences are people who attend emergency departments in regional hospitals having? How resourced are hospitals in smaller towns across Ireland? Has the health of the people of rural Ireland been forgotten?

 There is no doubt that a review and appropriate actions need to be urgently carried out to help solve the crises in Cork hospitals, and not just for the short term.


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