'16hr wait' | 

Inquiry into Aoife Johnston (16) loss from meningitis must establish if death was preventable says Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach makes contact with HSE after teenager dies from meningitis

Senan MolonyIndependent.ie

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wants an inquiry into the tragic loss of teenager Aoife Johnston from meningitis to establish whether her death was preventable.

The Taoiseach made direct contact with the HSE after the Irish Independent reported the young schoolgirl was left on a hospital trolley for up to 16 hours.

University Hospital Limerick (UHL) has promised a “comprehensive investigation” into the circumstances which led up to Aoife’s death.

Mr Varadkar has called for that inquiry to be “done as thoroughly and as quickly as possible”.

“I know that’s what the family expects, and that’s what they have a right to expect,” he said.

“It’s just devastating for the family, particularly at this time of year, and I want to express my condolences to Aoife’s family and friends, and of course to anyone who knew her.”

The 16-year-old attended the Accident & Emergency department at the hospital last weekend amid scenes of serious overcrowding.

Aoife died on Monday and her family believe she did not receive the treatment a patient in her condition would expect.

It is understood she spent between 13 and 16 hours on a hospital trolley.

While she was eventually given antibiotics to fight the infection, it was too late to save her life.

Responding to the report, Mr Varadkar said a “Serious Incident Management Team has now been established, and that’s going to review her treatment”.

He added it is important “not to jump to conclusions at this stage”.

“I am a former NCHD (non-consultant hospital doctor) and former GP, and that’s exactly why I wouldn’t jump to conclusions as to what happened in terms of her treatment or care.

“But it is really important that an investigation is carried out and that the case is fully reviewed so we can understand whether what happened was preventable or not and what can be done in the future to improve the situation. So that investigation is going to happen,” he said.

Aoife was laid to rest on Thursday after a funeral in Shannon, Co Clare, where she was described as “unique” and a “wonderful young woman”.

Her family and friends have been left devastated by the sudden death.

It is believed Aoife was classified as a “category two” patient, meaning her situation was not considered life-threatening.

Category one patients are those in need of resuscitation or those suffering conditions such as a heart attack or a stroke.

Well-placed sources described the A&E department at UHL last Saturday night as “out of control” due to a lack of doctors, nurses and beds.

Since the beginning of last year, staff at the hospital have repeatedly raised concerns about the chaotic overcrowding in the hospital.

However, the situation has further deteriorated in recent weeks, culminating in what the hospital has termed its “worst weekend” on record last week.

In a statement issued to the Irish Independent, the hospital said: “UL Hospitals Group can confirm that following the death of a teenager from meningitis in University Hospital Limerick on 19th December, a Serious Incident Management Team has been established, and a comprehensive investigation will take place.

“UL Hospitals Group extends our sincere condolences to the family following their devastating loss.”

The HSE’s chief operating officer Damien McCallion offered his sympathies to Aoife’s family.

“It is a horrible thing to happen to any family, particularly at this time of the year.

“An investigation has been set up immediately to investigate into the care, and we will work closely with the family in that case. I wouldn’t think it is appropriate to comment any further,” he said.

Medical guidelines for acute bacterial meningitis state the condition is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately with intravenous antibiotics and sometimes steroids.

The guidelines also state that treatment should not be delayed while awaiting the results of diagnostic tests for the condition.

Figures collated by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation reveal that 17,640 people were left without a bed at UHL this year, compared to 12,108 people last year.

This figure is over 5,500 more than the second most overcrowded hospital, University Hospital Cork, which recorded 12,133 people waiting on trolleys this year.

UHL declined to comment on how long Aoife Johnston was left on a trolley.

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