Tuesday 6 December 2016

Dad of four died just eight weeks after stopping dialysis as 'he couldn't face travelling to hospital'

Published 26/09/2016 | 13:11

Waterford Regional Hospital, inset Jim Mernagh
Waterford Regional Hospital, inset Jim Mernagh
University Hospital Waterford

A father-of-four died just eight weeks after he decided to discontinue his dialysis treatment because he could no longer face travelling to and from Waterford University Hospital three times a week, his widow has claimed.

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Alice Mernagh said her late husband Jim would have continued the weekly treatment if there was a dialysis unit in Wexford, as it would only have been a “mere ten minute journey away.”

Jim Mernagh
Jim Mernagh

Now, she has decided to raise the issue at a national level.

In August, it was announced that Wexford County Council refused planning permission for a proposed new dialysis unit in the county.

The decision was met with anger and disappointment by dialysis patients in Wexford as it meant they would have to continue their eight hour round journeys to Dublin and Waterford to be treated.

“The journey was the crucifying part. Whatever value he got from the treatment, it would be totally negated by the journey. He would be collected at half 9 in the morning and he wouldn’t be back until after 6 o’clock,” Alice Mernagh told Independent.ie.

The urgent need for a dialysis unit in Wexford was first identified over 10 years ago.

At the moment, there are over 60 patients who have to travel to Waterford and Dublin for dialysis, a lot of them elderly people.

People require dialysis when they have reached the final stage of kidney failure. The process involves removing waste, salt and extra water from the body to keep it balanced.

“Around three people would be brought down on the one day and you couldn’t be brought home until everyone had been treated.

“One evening Jim came home and just said, look it, I’m giving up dialysis, I can’t do this any more,” she said.

Jim (79) had been enduring the gruelling 148km journey since December 2015 when he started his treatment.

Also a diabetes sufferer, he consulted with his own GP and a palliative care team before he came to his “informed decision”.

“He was happier after he made the decision. He just couldn't keep travelling up and down to Waterford anymore,” Alice said.

“It makes me very angry, so angry. I feel so helpless. I also feel heartbreak for the people that still have to make that awful journey. I feel the issue is a political ball that is being kicked from one politician to the next.

“There was a meeting here at Christmas and the assumption after that it was only a matter of time before planning was granted but it didn’t happen and that is so frustrating. To the ordinary person who has the experience of travelling up and down, it makes no sense. If there is an available unit somewhere, us lay people don’t understand why it just can’t be used,” she added.

The proposed new unit was due to be built in the Whitemill Industrial Estate.

Wexford County Council said planning permission was refused because the placing of the health unit in an industrial estate ran the risk of sterilising the land around it, thus having a negative effect on businesses in the area.

Speaking at the time of the announcement, Minister of State Paul Kehoe laid the blame at the feet of the HSE and not the Council.

“I'm very disappointed with the HSE and the way they handled this. The HSE should have sat down with the County Council to identify and agree a number of suitable sites and then outlined these as the locations they were seeking tenders for instead of leaving it to tender applicants to find sites. The tenderer will always look for the cheapest option,” he said.

Last week, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said he believed the Whitemill Industrial Estate was not the right choice of location for the unit. He advised against appealing the decision as it will take months, and said the best option is to find a new location.

It is believed a second possible suitable location for the dialysis unit is located in Clonard Village which has pre-approved planning permission for a healthcare facility and a drop-off point for ambulances.

In a statement, the South/South-West Hospital Group said: “The South/South West Hospital Group in collaboration with the HSE, National Renal Office and National Procurement are progressing the provision of the Wexford Satellite Renal Dialysis Unit.”

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