A Letterkenny-based nurse has shared her heartache at seeing patients being treated in ‘inhumane’ conditions at Letterkenny Unversity Hospital.
Sarah Meagher has had to work far beyond her rostered hours at LUH Emergency Department this week.
Every day, she asks herself how long she can cope with the crisis.
“It’s soul destroying. I didn’t go into nursing to be in crisis management and that is what we are doing on a daily basis now. We signed up to be nurses because we care for the patients.
“We want to provide the best level of care that we can for every patient that we encounter.
“We are constantly running from pillar to post and you’re trying to prioritise the next big thing that we have to get done.”
Sarah said she and her colleagues are “broken” by the relentless overcrowding at the hospital.
“We are done.”
Speaking to Claire Byrne on RTE Radio One yesterday, Sarah said: “You’re coming onto a shift and you know you’re going in to face anything up to 30 admitted patients plus any additional patients that have been waiting to be seen.
“It’s not unusual at the moment to walk into our department and find 40 or 50 patients in the department. We only have 12 cubicles. You are walking into an area that is full of patients sitting on chairs, patients sitting on wheelchairs, standing, sitting on the floor at times.”
Sarah’s work shift this week was supposed to be 8am – 4pm, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. But on Tuesday she didn’t leave until 9pm, on Wednesday it was 10pm and again on Thursday it was 9pm.
“If I hadn’t stayed until 10 o’clock there was nobody available to triage,” she said.
Letterkenny University Hospital, like others, is dealing with short staffing and high sick leave rates from staff suffering from burnout and illness. Sarah said there has been a large influx of staff in recent years, but no time to train them or induct them to new healthcare systems and often a new country.
The hospital is facing an ‘exodus’ of experienced staff in numbers Sarah has never seen before.
She said that frontline staff are facing the anger of the public who are worried about their health or the health of their loved ones, and she sympathises with them. She said the impact of the long wait times flows on to affect patient care.
“You are facing justifiably upset and angry patients and relatives and the conditions they are being treated in,” she said.
“Unfortunately we bear the brunt of that because we are the faces that they see.
“You have to prepare yourself mentally for the fact that you know you’re going into work and you’re going to be listening to people who are angry and upset – and rightly so.
“We agree with them: It is unacceptable, it’s unsafe. It is inhumane the way people are being treated at the moment. Because of the conditions we are in we are seeing episodes of missed care and delayed care, such as drugs may be late being given or clinical observations not being recorded in a timely manner.”
Sarah said staff cannot face the physical and mental demands of another winter crisis. The government’s winter plan came too late in October, she said, and by the time measures are in place they will be seeking another winter plan.
“This is ongoing every single year there is a crisis and they have done nothing about this,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has sanctioned the beginning of a consultation with nurses on a campaign of industrial action.
INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghda said: “What has transpired this week in our hospitals was totally avoidable. For too long nurses and midwives have been warning that we were going to see an overcrowding blackspot in January unless serious and meaningful action was taken. While many will try to laud the fact that we have seen a decrease of patients on trolleys from 931 to 535, we won’t be part of attempts to justify this as an improvement.
“Nurses and midwives expect and deserve to work in a safe practice environment in which they can deliver the safe and excellent care they are trained to provide.”