Low attendance scuppers Limerick hospital protest

University Hospital Limerick

MUCH frustration was felt by organisers on Sunday (May 28) when a protest over the ongoing overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick was cancelled due to low uptake from the people of Limerick. 

Speaking to the Limerick Post, chief organiser of the protest Mike Daly said he was “confused” by the low attendance, especially in light of the fact that 11,000 swarmed the streets of Limerick City earlier this year to express their dissatisfaction over conditions at University Hospital Limerick (UHL).

The Limerick Post counted approximately 20 people in attendance at the failed-to-launch demonstration, which was set to march through O’Connell Street and Henry Street before finishing in Arthur’s Quay Park before the last-minute cancellation by organisers. 

“Personally I think people should have been here today,” said Mr Daly, reflecting on the failed protest. “We can only do so much. It’s down to the people on the day to turn up and, at the end of the day, the hospital affects every one of us.” 

“I don’t think there’s anyone in Limerick and the surrounding areas that didn’t have a family member out there who was there for an undue length of time.” 

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Expressing his frustration at the low attendance, Mr Daly said: “We called it off obviously because not many turned up. There was about 40 or 50 there. We could have walked through town, but we just felt that it was pointless.” 

“Maybe it’s a mixture of a few things,” he speculated. “The good weather, people gone down to the seaside, obviously the match is on today, and maybe people are sick and tired of going to protest because it doesn’t seem to get them anywhere.” 

UHL continued to be the most overcrowded hospital in Ireland throughout last week, with the highest number of patients nationally waiting on trolleys for valuable bedspace in the Dooradoyle hospital. 

According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s (INMO) Trolley Watch, figures reached a weekly high of 89 patients on trolleys on Wednesday last (May 24).

Government have made some moves in tackling the overcrowding issue at UHL, with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announcing on Friday the fast-tracking of a second 96-bed block for the Limerick hospital, in addition to the one currently under construction, and the weekend extension of the Medical Assessment Unit opening hours at St John’s and Nenagh hospitals as part of a multi-million euro funding package.

The new 96-bed block at UHL, according to Minister Donnelly, is to be accompanied by a further four 24-bed inpatient wards as part of a new phase of capital works.

Speaking at the planned demonstration on Sunday, Limerick Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan questioned the efficacy of Minister Donnelly’s announcement. 

“Those are welcome announcements, but as always there’s no timelines in relation to them,” Senator Gavan said. “And I have to be honest with you, I do have a suspicion that sometimes the Government are more interested in spin than in actual facts.”

“Just to give you a concrete example of that, this is the same Health Minister who continually disputes the figures of patients on trolleys by the INMO.

“So if he’s not prepared to accept the reality of the horrendous queues of patients on trolleys every day, how much credibility does he have when he makes announcements like this?”

Also attending the demonstration, Limerick Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan said that the low numbers in attendance should not dilute the message that protesters had gathered to communicate, and a message should still be sent to the Government who “need to get their act together”. 

“I think the organisers had the best intentions, but the issue’s not going away. Just because there’s a smaller turnout here than there was in January, doesn’t mean we don’t still have the same problems. 

“The figures this year will probably be higher than the incredible number of 18,000 we had last year, so I commend anybody – whether it’s one person who does a protest or 11,000 people – the issue is still the same and we all need to work together to make sure we get the health service in the Mid West that we all deserve.”