Feet on the Street: 11,000 descend on Limerick city in protest

11,000 took to the streets of Limerick to protest the state of Mid West health services

FOR ONCE in Limerick city it didn’t pour rain from the skies. Instead there was anger pouring from the streets.

Anger about people young and old who died and could have been saved, anger about endless waits and the pain of watching beloved people suffer and being able to do nothing about it.

And anger that this has been going on in the Emergency Department of University Hospital Limerick year upon year, with seemingly no end in sight.

Gardaí estimate that as the hospital protest passed down Henry Street this Saturday afternoon, it was 11,000 souls strong.

They chanted “HSE, HSE, give us back our A and Es.”

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They carried red flags, each with the number of patients who lay on trolleys on individual days, sick enough to be admitted to hospital but without any bed to go to.

The highest score of shame was 126, emblazoned on a red flag carried by Mid West Hospital Campaign (MWHC) coordinator Noleen Moran, referring to the number of people who were on trolleys having been admitted to UHL on April 21 last.

Members of the Mid West Hospital Campaign leading the march towards Arthur’s Quay Park

Others were carrying broken hearts.

The sisters of Aoife Johnston, the 16-year-old Shannon girl who died from bacterial meningitis after being left on an ED trolley for 16 hours, were heading straight from the protest to her month’s mind.

They stood stunned, some of them weeping, as the protesters observed a minute’s silence in Aoife’s honour at the rally in Arthur’s Quay park.

Their grief was too fresh, their pain too obvious, to address the crowd.

Afterwards, Aoife’s sister Meagan told the Limerick Post that she was “surprised and shocked” at the massive turnout for the rally.

Melanie Sheehan stepped up to the microphone to tell the story of her daughter, Eve Cleary (21), who died of a blood clot after spending 17 hours on a trolley in 2019.

“Eve’s treatment in UHL ended her life and began a nightmare for our family,” she told the rally.

“The Minister for Health continues to ignore my emails, asking him to meet us.

“When will they be held to account? When another child, another husband, another brother, sister, parent dies? This is no longer a health crisis – it’s a national disaster. ”

Campaigner Conor Reidy described the harrowing final days in the life of his 89-year-old father, Johnny, who died after being sent between the ED at UHL, Nenagh Hospital, and a nursing home in Nenagh, despite being diagnosed with pneumonia.

Mr Reidy said his dad was a “victim of the HSE” in his last months of life in 2018.

The Nenagh Needs Its A&E campaign representative recalled how, even before his final encounter with the hospital, his father, a medical card patient, was was often left waiting at the end of the queue at the Eye Clinic at UHL.

After one five-hour wait, when other people who had arrived after him were seen first, his son asked what was going on. He was told that a senior clinician wanted the private patients seen first.

“The people of the Mid West can no longer be the guinea pigs in this Government’s sick ideological, failed (hospital) experiment,” he said.

“I don’t have the capacity to forgive what the HSE did to my wonderful, beautiful father in his final months. He didn’t deserve what this country did to him in his final months. I can’t forgive the HSE. I can’t forgive Ireland.”

Sisters Cobhla (7) and Seoidín (4) Nelson showing their support for frontline workers

MWHC committee member Mary Cahillane quoted trolley numbers from the last few weeks and waiting lists numbers at UHL to a livid crowd in the city centre park.

“Zero is the number of hours we have left for talking. We need action,” she said.

Campaign co-ordinator Noleen Moran said that hospital management had asked people over the winter months to “consider other options instead of going to the ED. What other options? People with no other option flooded into UHL ED.”

Ger Kennedy, Health Sector Organiser with SIPTU, said “we represent workers who, every day, put their lives and the health of their families on the line and during the pandemic some paid the ultimate price”.

“Yet they do not have the support of the HSE to provide the service they want to provide to the people of the Mid West.”

Mike Daly, who organised the protest in co-operation with the MWHC, thanked those who came out.

Speaking about the decision to close the ED facilities at St John’s, Ennis, and Nenagh, he said: “If they don’t review their decision, this protest is not the end. It is only the beginning.”

“Our elderly deserve better than to lie on cold, hard trolleys. Our young people deserve to not die.”