Mother’s ordeal suggests A&E system may be beyond repair.
On a recent Friday night, as my colleague Conor Pope’s Magazine feature on his overnight shift in the A&E department at St James’s Hospital was hitting the streets, my mother’s eight-hour quest for treatment in an acute Dublin hospital was coming to an end.
Nan Collins (77) has reduced vision due to age-related macular degeneration, an eye condition that affects one in 10 people over the age of 50. On Friday, September 20th, she tripped in a car park at Dublin Airport. When I met her shortly afterwards she had a serious-looking wound on her forehead and was nursing her right wrist.
My immediate instinct was to get her to the nearest A&E department, in the Materhospital. Big mistake. It was mid-afternoon on a Friday, so we naively thought it wouldn’t take long for her to be treated.
Not having a medical card, she was asked to pay a non-refundable €100 fee on arrival, before getting any indication of the possible waiting time. She was seen by a nurse just after 5pm, an hour after we arrived, and at 8pm, after I asked could she see a nurse again.
The hours passed in a blur – there’s not much to distract you, and you spend the time oscillating between worry about your relative and anger at the inefficiency of the system. By 11pm I’d had enough and got through to the nurses’ station and successfully pleaded my mother’s case. We were brought into a side ward where, almost eight hours after arriving, my mother began to be monitored to check whether she had concussion.
Just after 2am, it was confirmed Nan had broken her wrist, and would be kept in A&E overnight for a CT scan the next morning.
Infuriatingly, my mother’s experience is by no means unique.
The Mater’s new A&E department opened last February as part of a €284 million extension to the hospital. One newspaper report suggested “patients will receive treatment faster and more effectively and their dignity and comfort will be ensured in the bigger, better building”. None of that was in evidence during our visit.
Getting into A&E is tricky. There are very few signs inside or outside the building. However, there are signs suggesting how to interact with staff, how to pay the €100 fee and why it can’t be refunded even if you don’t see a medic.
We didn’t see enhanced facilities in the waiting area, unless you count the vending machines stocked with chocolate bars and undrinkable coffee. There are recharging units for mobile phones – at €2 a shot – confirmation that any visit here is likely to be a lengthy one.