This is not the time to be closing Emergency Departments

Ciara McGuinness

Many of us have been witnessing the downfall of the health services in Ireland as significant pressure persists due to a surge of patients presenting to emergency departments (ED) across the country, GP practices and Medical Assessment Units.

Ireland is currently in the midst of a triple epidemic with Covid-19, influenza, and RSV.

On the 3rd of January, the worst figures showed, 931 admitted patients on trolleys waiting for a hospital bed with more than 139 people waiting more than 9 hours in ED.

Understandably, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (IMNO) is calling for ‘immediate and serious intervention’ from the Irish government and HSE.

Aggravating the community further is the undeniable fact that this issue was preventable.

Australia experienced a twin epidemic during Ireland’s Summer of 2022, which held the Government and Health officials accountable for putting the correct measures in place to ensure safe services during the Winter of 2022.

Furthermore, rather than focusing on the catastrophe that was ahead, during the summer of 2022 the CEO of the HSE at the time, Paul Reid was adamant to convert the ED in Navan Hospital to a Medical Assessment Unit. This led to many political controversies as the closure of this ED would only make way for more overcrowding in other Hospitals without proper resourcing.

Fortunately, on June 21st , the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly revealed that he told the HSE to pause the closure to allow a review of services.

Recently, campaigners pointed to the closure of the EDs at Nenagh, Ennis hospitals, and St John’s Hospital as a major factor in added pressure on Hospitals, particularly Limerick which leaves us relieved Reid’s plans for Navan ED were paused.

Frustratingly, the HSE urged people to consider alternative options rather than going to an ED, where appropriate. Now, the public is suffering due to the HSEs and the Government’s lack of preparation.

Intensifying this outrageous statement is the knock-on effects of flu medication not even being made available in local pharmacies due to our system failing us repetitively.

To add insult to injury, Stephen Donnelly described the situation as the ‘perfect storm and warned it is likely to get worse before it gets better’.

Consequently to this statement, people are losing faith in him and the system because the person tasked with oversight of the health service cannot provide any reassurance.

These statistics are not just numbers, they are individuals who are suffering in pain due to the negligence of what is meant to be our support system.

In the past three decades, Ireland has not built one major acute public hospital, we are short of acute hospital beds and we now have a system not fit for purpose. The HSE and the Government need to be held accountable for the issues at hand and more needs to be done quickly and effectively.

We could not anticipate Covid-19 in 2020, however, we now know these viruses mutate and are intelligent against vaccines.

The health service needs to develop and reform to keep up with these crises’ beginning with the funding of private hospital beds to ensure the sick, especially the elderly don’t lie helplessly in pain in a corridor.

Although measures have been taken such as consultants being asked to work at weekends, is this enough? We need a sustainable and reliable healthcare system that is not leaving people suffering along with long-term solutions. Our health officials are failing us with no reassurance and little empathy.

This is not the time to be closing emergency departments. Officials are failing to see behind each number is a human being, somebody’s mother, husband, daughter, son, or friend.

Ciara McGuinness

Image credit: Seamus Farrelly