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Artist Ballagh lashes HSE over death of wife in hospital toilet

Artist Robert Ballagh has lashed out at the Irish health service as "being based entirely on queues’ following the sudden death of his wife Betty earlier this year.

Betty died in a toilet in St Joseph’s hospital in Raheny, and five months on the Ballagh family still do not know the cause of her death.

Ballagh described to the John Murray show on RTE Radio 1 this morning the struggle to get Betty admitted through the A & E department in Beaumount, after she became unwell with a stomach complaint.

Betty was left for over 16 hours on a chair in ‘considerable discomfort’ before she progressed to a trolley. She was later moved to St Patrick’s ward in Beaumont which Ballagh described as a holding ward ‘designed to massage the trolley figures’.

"How have we ended up with a health system that treats people so badly?" the 68-year-old artist asked. Ballagh was married to Betty, his muse, for 45 years and the couple have two children together.

Eventually Betty entered the system, but after a week she was discharged despite being in a very weak state.

After a day at home, Betty was in serious discomfort and after frantic calls from Ballagh, his wife was admitted to St Joseph’s in Raheny. She was discovered dead by staff in a toilet during the night.

Robert Ballagh and his children still don’t know how Betty died. They are still waiting for the coroner’s report.

A huge backlog of post-mortems at the State Laboratory currently means that some tissue samples have to be sent to the United States for analysis.

Due to the circmstances of Betty's death, Mr. Ballagh told of the difficult procedures he had to go through immediately after her demise. He had to sign a form giving permission for a post mortem and what he found extremely challenging was being told to come to the hospital to identify his wife's body in the company of two Gardai. The Gardai were delayed and he was left with his wife’s body for over an hour and a half. "I do not think anyone should be put through this," he said.

“We need to make the system more humane" the artist said. "Our entire hospital system is based on queues." He explained that the delay with the coroner’s investigation is due to the State labs being massively overloaded. "Tissue samples etc are being sent to private hospitals in the US for analysis due to the backlog" he told Murray.

MrBallagh told John Murray that having married so young; he and Betty wed when she was 18, this is the first time he has ever been alone, but is gradually coming to terms with the grief and loneliness of losing Betty.