Student with eating disorder untreated for 12 hours despite high risk of coronary
A pageant winner who says she could "drop dead at any minute" due to a flare-up of an eating disorder-related condition has told how she endured a 12-hour wait for treatment at an A&E.
Armagh woman Felicity McKee (26), a Masters student in public health at Queen's University, was crowned Ms Ireland 2017.
As a result of her eating disorder, Felicity suffers from a chronic electrolyte instability and requires regular transfusions to prevent her from having a cardiac arrest.
However, after being admitted to Craigavon Area Hospital on December 23 she claimed that she was kept waiting for 12 hours before treatment began due to overcrowding.
Felicity also suffers from osteoporosis, fibromyalgia and mental health issues.
"I started suffering from anorexia 10 years ago and it was at that point that my physical health began to completely deteriorate," she said.
"I regularly need drips of potassium, magnesium and phospates or I would be at risk of taking seizures, muscle cramps, paralysis and cardiac episodes. It's totally debilitating.
"I had been in a different hospital after a flare-up two days previously, and was released on December 22, but had to go to Craigavon Area Hospital on December 23 as my condition worsened again.
"I went to A&E at Craigavon as my pain was spiking and I had cramping. I had been up all night feeling ill.
"We arrived at A&E at around 10pm on December 23, I was triaged half-an-hour later, but then I wasn't seen by a doctor until about 8am the next morning.
"There were no cubicles available with cardiac monitors, which are important in case I take a cardiac arrest, and I had to wait until 10am on December 24 to begin the intravenous treatment - 12 hours after I arrived.
"All that time I was worried that I could take a heart attack.
"I wasn't discharged until 2.30pm the following afternoon, over 16 hours after I first entered the emergency department." During her long wait, she says she witnessed distressing scenes in the casualty department.
"There was one girl, a teenager, who was there for as long as I had been, and she was crying out in pain and vomiting on the floor," she said.
"She didn't want to be separated from her mum, she was so scared and in a massive amount of distress, and there was nowhere for anyone who was seriously ill to wait comfortably in A&E.
"At 3am some people got angry as they had been waiting for several hours, and they walked out.
"The nurses came out to look for them but there was no one there. The staff were trying their best, but it was chaos. The whole process was a bit of a mess."
Earlier this week the Health and Social Care Board revealed that nearly 1,000 people were forced to endure waiting times of more than 12 hours in Northern Ireland's casualty departments over Christmas.
Felicity described the situation of the NHS here as "unsustainable".
She added: "I didn't feel safe during my time at Craigavon Area Hospital. I think that, across the health service, there aren't enough resources or staff, and the budgets have been cut too much. I also think that some people aren't choosing the right care pathways to use the system correctly."
In addition to accessing the NHS for her own medical conditions, Felicity also supports others with physical and mental health conditions through the group Chronically Fabulous, which she co-founded with photographer Debbie Deboo.
The Western Trust said: "We are unable to discuss the details of individual patients but deeply regret that our ED waiting times have been longer than we would have liked them to have been over the Christmas period.
"People coming to our emergency departments with serious, urgent symptoms are always prioritised and treated first.
"We would encourage anybody with a complaint to contact our complaints department by telephoning 028 3861 4150 or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org"