Rachel’s story of suffering in chaotic emergency department

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Rachel Hillyard from Clonlara who has abscesses on her rectum and suffers with Crohn's Disease was waiting for treatment on a chair in the Emergency Department at University Hospital Limerick, where a record 92 patients were on trolleys Photo: David Raleigh

A WOMAN suffering from abscesses on her rectum was treated on a chair in the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick this week as a record 92 patients lay on trolleys around her.

Rachel Hillyard, who has Crohn’s Disease, initially presented at the emergency department last Saturday but went home after she was told there was a nine-hour wait to see a doctor.

The mother-of-five from Clonlara returned at 10am on Monday and, after being triaged and seen by a doctor within an hour, she was left waiting on a chair for five hours in the crowded emergency department to see a surgical doctor.

After falling asleep on the chair, she woke up and explained her situation: “I’m sitting on a chair, it’s not very comfortable. To be honest with you, there’s actually a lot of people sitting on chairs. They seem to have got rid of the trolleys and have put chairs in.”

“Sitting on a chair is not the best for me. I have Crohn’s Disease and with that comes a lot of perianal abscesses. They’re very uncomfortable and very painful and I have no cushion.”

She then recalled what she described as “a horrible experience” in the emergency department last July.

“I came in by ambulance and I was pretty ill with the disease. I spent four days on a trolley in the emergency department. Even to turn around on the trolley to vomit, you were sure you were going to hit someone with it. It was that packed.

“I had a very bad flare up and I was incontinent at that time, and I was two days in my own faeces. The staff were just up the bloody walls, they were doing everything they could, there was just so many patients.

“The two toilets that were closest to me were out of order at the time. With Crohn’s Disease, you could be visiting the bathroom 30 to 40 times in a day, and it’s a matter of urgency, there’s no standing and waiting.”

“That was a horrible experience for me. I had to get in my sister who had to take me to the bathroom and wash me. I had open wounds as well. It was horrible.”

Asked how she could be left for two days in her own excrement, she replied: “When you are very very sick like that, you can’t shout loudest to get attention, you can just try your best and communicate with them. It was absolutely crazy. The toilets were out of order and you couldn’t swing a cat in there.”

“My consultant had advised me to write a complaint at that time, but I didn’t do it because I was so sick, it was the furthest thing from my mind.”

Looking at the line of trolleys next to her in the emergency department on Monday, she said: “Something drastic needs to be done.”

“There are a lot of doctors coming in but there are a lot of patients coming in as well. It’s frustrating for both the patients and for the staff. The staff are run off their feet, doing everything they can with the little resources they have, but it’s not doing any good.”

“I just don’t know what the solution is. Maybe reopen another hospital, at this stage, if it’s possible.”

In 2009 the Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition signed off on reconfiguring 24-hour emergency care out of Tipperary and Clare to UHL.

A €24 million emergency department was opened at the Limerick hospital two years ago, but overcrowding has continued.

“They have tried everything here, they’ve built a new building and it’s not working. In my opinion it needs a new hospital. Since the emergency departments at Nenagh and Ennis closed, it has made it far worse.”

Despite the ordeal for many, some patients were very satisfied with their experience at UHL on Monday.

One woman, who did not wish to be named, said that within 15 minutes of arriving at the hospital with her husband, who had a nose bleed, he had been triaged, admitted on a trolley, and given a sandwich and bowl of soup.

“We’re in awe of it,” the woman said.

Asked for a comment on Ms Hillyard’s experience, a spokesman for the UL Hospitals Group said that they could not comment on individual cases.

“Maintaining patient confidentiality is not only an ethical requirement for UL Hospitals Group, it is also a legal requirement as defined in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) along with the Data Protection Acts 1988-2018. When a client or family makes personal information public, this does not relieve us of our duty to uphold patient confidentiality at all times.

“We are happy to engage directly with the patient on this matter. We encourage feedback, positive and negative, from our patients. In this instance we encourage the patient to come forward and engage in the complaints process in confidence by emailing [email protected],” the spokesman added.