This column appeared in the Waterford News & Star on Tuesday, November 28. Read the View from the Blue, and many other columns, including The Phoenix, every week.
NOBODY is afraid of the monster, until it appears under their bed. I’ve been saying this for longer than I care to remember. I’ll never forget the day I marched down the Quay, in what was the third mass protest to raise awareness about the chronic services in our region’s hospital. Cars drove past giving dirty looks, rolling up their windows and refusing to beep their horns in support. To them, we were that category of protester that Waterford has, unfortunately, become known for. Those people who object to just about everything, just because they have nothing else to do.
No, we were protesting because our hospital is being deprived of services that we desperately need. We are campaigning for a second cath lab but we know that they don’t want to give it to us. What should delivered a long time ago longer hours for the one we already have. The Cath Lab is not run on batteries that need to charge themselves over night. There is no logical reason in the world why it should be switched off, and the doors closed when there are staff available to work in them. Cardiologists do clock into work at UHW after hours but for some reason they cease to be called cardiologists once they do. They become ‘medical doctors’. If they are in the hospital at 8pm on a Friday night and a heart attack patient comes in, the cath lab should be opened immediately.
The nurses treated Tom Power knew that he only had about 12-15 mins to live, yet he was still sent off to Cork. Two weeks ago, as reported in the News & Star last week, an elderly man was about to be sent to Dublin for treatment when the paramedics were stood down. It was felt that he wouldn’t make the trip to Dublin so the cardiology team was called in and the cath lab was about to be opened. Sadly, the man didn’t even make it to the cath lab, but it was the right decision to give him the best possible chance of survival.
This isn’t what this column is about though. I want to talk about the emergency that has – ironically – struck University Hospital Waterford’s Emergency Department. I’m writing this on Wednesday, November 22. On November 21, there were 44 people on trolleys in the Emergency Department – the highest number in the country. This is what the hospital does when this happens:
They cancel all elective surgeries on every other ward in the hospital and then send those patients home – patients that probably waited a while to secure those appointments. Consultants walk around the ED, and the Wards and discharge patients that they believe are not sick enough to be taking up beds. These are often elderly patients that don’t have family members to fight on their behalf. The beds are freed up, the patients on trolleys in the ED are given those beds and temporarily at least, the Emergency Department can come up for air. The problem is, all those people that were sent home are still actually sick and end up finding their way back into the Emergency Room in the following days, exacerbating an already critical situation.
In 2016, the HSE announced a big Winter Surge Plan for UHW and other large hospitals throughout the country. Our hospital was to be given 15 new beds, which would have undoubtedly relieved the pressure on the ED and other wards throughout the hospital. However, in October of last year, I received a phone call from a trusted contact within the hospital. He told me that they had closed 10 beds…the hospital was actually losing 10 beds. I contacted the HSE immediately and a few hours later they issued a region wide press release saying that “ University Hospital Waterford will be closing ten inpatient beds on a temporary basis with effect from Monday, October 31 owing to difficulties experienced in filling current nurse staffing vacancies.” These beds didn’t reopen again until March 2017. So, as winter took its grip on the region, we essentially lost 25 beds.
So, skip forward to this year and the situation has become much worse. We were the busiest hospital in the country this week so surely the HSE have got their winter surge plans in gear right? Wrong.
I have made a point of repeatedly asking the HSE what they are going to do this year. On September 27 they sent me this:
“On the week commencing 18th September, there were 1,107 presentations to the ED department at University Hospital Waterford. University Hospital Waterford has prepared a Winter Plan, and as always UHW and its staff are committed to providing the best possible care for our patients.”
There is absolutely no substance in this whatsoever.
Throughout October they actually point blank refused to answer the question, and then on November 6, a “spokesperson” for UHW said that “University Hospital Waterford has prepared a Winter Plan, and as always the hospital and staff are committed to providing the best possible care for our patients. These plans include proposals on reconfiguration of ward space to provide additional capacity and staffing for ward(s) and the Emergency Department.”
Reconfiguration of ward space. They are going to move a computer over to another side of the room so they can throw a few chairs down for a patient to lay on. No extra beds, no proper investment and we are on the verge of a catastrophe.
The obvious impact of this is the patients. Sick people will be sent home. Sicker people will wait for days on trolleys and most people in the south east won’t care about it until they or one of their family members end up in the ED.
The less obvious, but just as critical impact is on the staff. They will have to deal with more patients than they can handle, work extra hours and ultimately deal with more pressure than any human being should be expected to deal with. And they’re not making toy parts on a conveyor belt to prepare for the Christmas rush…they are saving lives.
Something needs to be done and it needs to be done immediately