Health crisis is more than just numbers, patients are suffering

Calum Atkinson

The election exit poll showed that when people were asked what issue was most important in deciding how they voted, 32 per cent of people said health.

This meant it ranked as the most important issue even ahead of housing and homelessness. This was quite a surprise to me as it didn’t seem like the topic got much airtime in many of the debates or was much discussed.

The issues within the health service have been going on for so long with no signs of improvement that the situation has almost become normalised. Is it really the RTÉ evening news if there isn’t a story about long waiting lists or the amount of trollies in the corridors of hospitals up and down the country?

As someone who is fortunate enough to have stayed relatively healthy in my life, the problems within the health sector always seemed so abstract to me. I struggled to comprehend the severity of the situation.

But this changed quite a bit last week when I visited the GP in the student health centre here in DCU. After the examination, the doctor told me to go straight to the emergency department in the Mater for further tests.

On arrival, I saw a nurse within 20 minutes for an initial assessment. Then I returned to the waiting room to wait my turn to see a doctor.

I waited and waited, and waited some more. Luckily for me, I had the time to wait as I didn’t have anywhere else to be. But I saw patient after patient leaving before they even had the chance to see a doctor.

Long waiting times have been linked with negative health outcomes and pose a risk to patient safety. But this was a level above that, with patients leaving before being fully examined so they were going home without having their problem fully treated.

One case in particular sticks in my mind. A man came to the emergency department after being knocked off his bike. He appeared to have a broken arm but had to wait several hours to see a doctor. In the fifth or sixth hour, he gave up and left as he had to catch the final bus home.

The 2019 National Inpatient Experience Survey shows that 70 per cent of patients were not admitted to a ward within the Health Service Executive’s target waiting time of six hours. Four per cent of people waited 48 hours or more before being admitted.

I was eventually seen by a doctor after nine hours of waiting. Luckily for me, I was discharged and did not have to stay overnight on a trolley in the hospital corridor. 

The whole experience of going to the emergency department though was truly exhausting, so I can only imagine the experiences of those who have to go to the hospital more regularly. 

I should add that all of the staff I engaged with were incredibly helpful and were doing the best they could. But the fact of the matter is that the system is severely under resourced and patients are suffering as a result.

Calum Atkinson

Image: Psoq