“I don’t know how Stephen Donnelly sleeps at night because I can barely sleep when I picture my 76-year-old mother lying in pain and distress on a trolley in A&E with no bed for her”
Thousands gathered in Limerick on Saturday to protest conditions at University Hospital Limerick and call for the reopening of regional A&E units in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, Ennis, Co Clare and St John’s Hospital in Limerick.
Ms McMahon and other protesters from groups, including the Mid-West Hospital Campaign, shared personal stories of loved ones’ ordeals at UHL and on behalf of Edel Hughes, also shared her family’s experiences of overcrowding at Portiuncula in Ballinasloe.
The full statement reads as follows:
"My heart goes out to all of you who have suffered and watched their loved ones suffer at UHL, knowing that they could be treated much closer to home in regional hospitals in Nenagh, Ennis and St John’s.
“In Roscommon, we feel your pain and stand in solidarity with you as we have watched a similar disaster unfold since the closure of our A&E unit in 2011.
“Patients from Roscommon town and county, east Galway and parts of Athlone are being sent to the A&E in Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe which is already massively overstretched. The hospital has just 157 beds yet had an average of 22 patients on trolleys each day so far this year alone.
“My father died after a major deterioration at the hospital in 2014 - and my mother sadly passed away there on January 4 of this year. The day before she was admitted, a shameful new record was set, 931 people in hospitals on trolleys nationwide. The morning she was admitted, a total of 25 patients were waiting for beds in Portiuncula.
“Living in a rural area, we are used to travelling for certain services such as chemotherapy, surgeries, maternity services etc. We are aware that not every need can be catered for in our local hospital. However, losing our A&E was an enormous blow locally. Since then, Roscommon people have had to travel for treatment to Portiuncula in Ballinasloe - even if they lived right beside the hospital.
“The first time my mother suffered a seizure in 2021, she was living right across the road from Roscommon Hospital - however the ambulance could not take her there and instead had to drive 55 km to Ballinasloe with an unresponsive patient.
"Thankfully on this occasion she recovered but two months later, she had to be rushed to Mullingar again in an unresponsive condition as Roscommon could not accept her. Incredibly, she recovered again despite the delay in getting to hospital.
“What is even more incredible is that patients with a Roscommon address who are not well enough to be discharged but are improving will be sent back to Roscommon Hospital as a “step down” - a doctor in Portiuncula told me this. Why should these people have to endure the stress of travelling, delay in treatment and face a chaotic A&E only to be eventually sent back to their local hospital anyway?
“Portiuncula has always been a busy hospital with a maternity unit, stroke unit and 24-hour emergency department. But the current conditions in A&E can only be described as a warzone. When I arrived at the hospital on the morning of January 4, looking for my mother, I found her in the resuscitation room at the back of A&E - she was far too frail for resuscitation or ICU but they were keeping her there as there was nowhere else. You could barely move in the corridor as it was full of people lying on trolleys with a few more behind curtains.
“These conditions are not safe for patients or staff. Every day, hospital staff have to make difficult decisions and have painful conversations with patients and their families. Their ability to make good clinical decisions is impacted by the conditions they are facing. The A&E unit in Portiuncula is massively overstretched, leading to staff just fighting fires, trying to get the sickest patients a bed before the next ill or injured person comes through the door.
“A signed deposition from a doctor at Portiuncula read at my father’s inquest stated that there was no head injury protocol in place at the hospital, no observations carried out on him since 2am the morning he deteriorated and no neuro-observations ordered despite the fact he had been diagnosed with a brain bleed. In the morning, he was discovered unconscious and rushed to ICU before being transferred to Beaumont where he died several days later.
"The doctor said his outcome could have been different if a protocol was in place. He was just 70 years old, well below the average life expectancy for a man in Ireland, and the autopsy report described him as a ‘well-built man, looking younger than his stated age.’ Almost nine years later, I am still traumatised by his death and haunted by the knowledge that he could have been saved.
“Several years later, an elderly relative of ours was admitted to Portiuncula Hospital. He was losing his sight but staff weren’t made aware and when his sister came to visit, she was shocked to discover he hadn’t eaten all day because he was unable to see the food left for him. If he was in Roscommon Hospital, it would have been much easier for family members to visit and help him eat.
"In January 2018, my mother was admitted to Portiuncula as she was unable to stand up or put weight on her leg. Astonishingly, a fracture was missed by the radiology team and she was sent home again. Just days later, she was rushed back to hospital by ambulance in excruciating pain where it was revealed she had a fracture and would need surgery.
“On another occasion in 2018, I went to the A&E at Portiuncula where my brother had been admitted with stomach pains. While I was visiting, I saw an elderly man from our area also on a trolley. That same evening, I went to Roscommon Hospital to visit my mother who was recovering from her leg surgery carried out at UCHG.
"While I was there, I noticed an empty ward closed for the weekend due to a lack of staff. So as beds lay empty in Roscommon, local people lay on trolleys in discomfort in Portiuncula.
“These are but a few experiences within our own family - we are aware of many other local people have suffered from A&E overcrowding and the delays in getting treatment. We are also aware that many people are too traumatised and distraught to speak out about their own experience.
“I don’t know how Stephen Donnelly sleeps at night because I can barely sleep when I picture my 76-year-old mother lying in pain and distress on a trolley in A&E with no bed for her. One doctor had the nerve to say ‘well, she’s had a good life’ to me - I said “She’s going to have a horrible death” as I feared she would die on a trolley.
“Only for the fact the undertakers made my mam look like herself again, I would never have another minute’s peace or rest when thinking about her final hours. My dying mother was finally admitted to a ward after over seven hours on a trolley and she bravely fought on until the end of the day.
“She was a wonderful hard-working loving woman who was a friend to everyone and beloved in her local community. She did not deserve this treatment. She was a non-drinker and non-smoker her entire life, worked outdoors farming while raising a family, ate healthily and always took any medication prescribed and followed doctors’ advice.”
“I found myself wishing she could’ve passed away in her sleep in Roscommon - even if it meant we weren’t by her side to comfort her and say our final goodbyes. No family should ever have to experience this kind of trauma and suffering.
“We need fully-operational A&E units in our regional hospitals. In Roscommon, Nenagh, Ennis, St John’s and Navan. The downgrading of our local hospitals has already caused irreparable damage that can never be healed. Our loved ones can’t be brought back or have their trauma erased but we can fight on their behalf for a more just future.”