CHILDREN are being forced to share A&E facilities with adults in many hospitals around the country, witnessing drunken and violent behaviour in some cases.
The conditions are revealed in a new audit of emergency departments in hospitals outside of Dublin, most of which have no separate assessment facilities or waiting areas for children.
The audit, carried out by the Health Service Executive (HSE), showed that only six of the 17 hospitals had a dedicated section for children.
The findings showed:
• 12,000 children are seen in University College Hospital Galway emergency department annually, but it has just two cubicles for them separated by a curtain.
• It has eight chairs adjacent to the cubicles where the children may have to be treated, with no privacy.
"Medical patients wait in those chairs, but unfortunately surgical patients wait in the main wait area with adults until they are called for review," the audit stated.
• Children waiting to be assessed in Limerick Regional Hospital emergency unit are also given no privacy while waiting to be assessed.
The report warned: "With such a busy throughput, many children are exposed visually to very ill or even drunk adults and no one can stand over this."
It described the Sligo Regional emergency department as "sub optimal" for children because of the manner in which they have to share the waiting area with adults.
Hospitals that have separate waiting areas include Kerry General; Cork University Hospital; Mercy Hospital in Cork; Our Lady of Lourdes, Drogheda, Co Louth; Portiuncula Hospital, Co Galway; Portlaoise Hospital, Co Laois; and Clonmel Hospital, Co Tipperary.
The findings come as the HSE launched a draft healthcare charter for paediatric services, which states that children and adults should be in separate facilities in emergency departments.
It says that regardless of age or state of development the protection of the privacy of children should be secured at all times.
There should be:
• Protection against physical exposure.
• Protection against treatment and behaviour which diminishes self respect or makes the child feel ridiculous or humiliated.
• The right of personal retreat, to be alone.
Meanwhile, hospital A&Es were under increasing pressure yesterday due to an influx of patients with respiratory illnesses and and winter-related conditions.
There were 345 patients on trolleys across the country yesterday morning with Beaumont Hospital in Dublin among the worst hit with 32 people waiting.
Limerick Regional Hospital also had 32 waiting for a bed while Wexford General and Waterford Regional were also overcrowded.