Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Case highlights chaos in A&Es

Maria Gibney who suffers from lung cancer spoke about her wait in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast
Maria Gibney who suffers from lung cancer spoke about her wait in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast

The experience of 51-year-old cancer sufferer Maria Gibney, when she was admitted to one of Northern Ireland's leading hospitals, brings into sharp relief the true human cost of the chaos in our emergency departments.

She is a woman suffering from incurable cancer who had to spend 26 hours lying on a trolley bed while enduring excruciating pain. It was, as she so vividly put it, hell on earth.

Every week, it seems, we are bombarded with statistics of the number of patients who have to wait inexcusably long periods of time before receiving the treatment they not only expect, but deserve.

But it is only when we actually hear the details of what individuals experience that we can fully appreciate how standards have declined.

This is not a criticism of the hard pressed staff. This newspaper has frequently defended the nurses and doctors who have to cope with enormous case loads which make it almost impossible to practice their care. Rather it is an example of the systemic failures of the system.

Maria Gibney's horrifying experience was in the Royal Victoria Hospital, an institution which has an enviable reputation, gained over many decades, for delivering cutting edge care in a wide range of specialties.

But, increasingly, the pressures on its emergency department – caused by closures of similar departments in other hospitals – are now impacting on the care it can deliver.

There have been several damning reports on services there, including one which said that a delay in treatment may have contributed to the deaths of five patients there last year.

A full scale review of services by a health watchdog is now under way with the results due next month.

Northern Ireland has a relatively small population and several large, modern hospitals and it seems incredible that services cannot be configured properly to handle the workload. It is widely recognised that we have an increasingly aged population which puts strains on the health service but that is no excuse for lack of proper planning and adequate staffing.

The treatment of Maria Gibney is a blot on the health service, but, unfortunately, is not an isolated example. Health Minister Edwin Poots must take robust action to address the problems, and quickly.

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