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Edel Hughes: ‘My mum waited 6 hours for ambulance – and can’t attend hospital across road’

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly’s Twitter bio says he’s “trying to improve the system from the inside.” A friend who works as a paediatric nurse told me: “The HSE is falling apart at the seams.”

Ambulances outside Portiuncula Hospital

Portiuncula Hospital is currently serving an enormous catchment area and can't cope with demand

Stephen Donnelly has done some good but hasn't dealt with the overcrowding issues© RollingNews.ie

Edel HughesSunday World

YESTERDAY I received a call to let me know my 76-year-old mother was unwell and needed to go to hospital. She’d been battling an infection for over a week and was at risk of dehydration.

It should be simple; she lives right across the road from Roscommon Hospital. But Roscommon’s A&E unit closed in 2011 and the hospital also close beds every weekend due to a lack of staff. With only a minor injuries unit operating, they could not admit her.

Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, now serves as the A&E for an enormous catchment area and is frequently overcrowded.

It’s just 42 minutes’ drive from Roscommon so it shouldn’t take too long for an ambulance to arrive. The call was made around 4pm and I left Dublin to drive the one hour 40mins to Ballinasloe.

Portiuncula Hospital is currently serving an enormous catchment area and can't cope with demand

Driving down the M6, I passed the exit for Roscommon, thinking even with delays, my mother would surely reach Ballinasloe before me. I stopped in Athlone for 25 minutes at 5.55pm where I learned the ambulance still hadn’t arrived. At 6.15pm, I got another text saying her temperature had spiked. Concerned, I drove on to Ballinasloe.

There was one ambulance with lights off when I arrived. There were four at one point, yet the hospital said they didn’t have resources to send one for my mother.

I waited for almost three hours and eventually as I drove home to Roscommon, I got a call to say the ambulance had arrived around 10pm. While her case was not classed as an “emergency”, it shouldn’t take six hours to send an ambulance.

Stephen Donnelly has done some good but hasn't dealt with the overcrowding issues© RollingNews.ie

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly’s Twitter bio says he’s “trying to improve the system from the inside.” A friend who works as a paediatric nurse told me: “The HSE is falling apart at the seams.”

She added: “We are in the middle of a staffing crisis that the HSE won’t seem to admit to, and we are only at the start of the winter season, things will only get worse. They expect staff to work extra to fill the gaps but with no foresight for the burnout that will happen.”

She’s right, our doctors, nurses and paramedics are incredible – but they are only human, they are not angels or saints with magical powers. They have real bodies and minds and suffer real fatigue, stress and mental health issues.

In the hospital my friend works in, the ICU ward is the “best staffed ward”, yet they only had seven nurses for 10 patients this week where there is meant to be a 1:1 ratio.

According to the INMO’s national Trolley Watch, 504 people were waiting on trolleys on Friday.

While I can commend Minister Donnelly for initiatives such as the free contraception scheme, it’s clear he has yet to tackle the biggest crises, the chaos in A&E and understaffing.

During the Covid crisis, private hospitals were nationalised to alleviate the pressure. This is an ongoing yearly crisis; it is immoral and unjust to operate for-profit healthcare where some can jump the queue while others languish on trolleys and wait hours for ambulances. It’s time to act Minister, we’re all waiting.

A HSE spokesperson told sundayworld.com: “When we experience very high demand for 999 services for patients with immediately life-threatening injuries and illnesses, this can, unfortunately, mean that some patients had longer waits.

"Every day, the National Ambulance Service deploys approximately 160-180 emergency ambulances, an average of 22 rapid response vehicles and in excess of 50 officer response vehicles operating from over 100 locations around the country.

“Not all 999 calls for ambulances are emergencies and response times targets which are set out in the HSE’s National Service Plan apply to ECHO (Life threatening cardiac or respiratory arrest) or DELTA (life threatening illness or injury, other than cardiac arrest) calls only.

“As demand can exceed available resources, 999 calls are clinically triaged and prioritised to ensure that those patients with life threatening injuries or conditions receive the fastest response possible.

“The HSE cannot comment on individual cases.”


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