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Hospital is a danger to anyone let alone the sick, says coroner

A SENIOR medical consultant has given a damning assessment of one of the busiest hospitals in the country describing "appallingly poor standards of sanitation".

The sharp indictment of standards was heard yesterday at the inquest into the death of Thomas Walsh (65), of Elmcastle Park in Kilnamanagh, Tallaght, Dublin, who died on March 2.

Dr James Gray, a consultant in emergency medicine at Tallaght Hospital said the frequent overcrowding at the hospital meant Mr Walsh was effectively waiting in a corridor.

Mr Walsh was described as a man who was "jolly, outgoing and full of life". He had been admitted with a severe ankle pain but later died of bronchial pneumonia and heart problems.

During his brief stay in the hospital, he was in a "virtual ward" -- another name for hospital corridors and alcoves where patients are left on trolleys while they are waiting for a bed in a ward.

Dr Gray said the hospital corridor where Mr Walsh was left was not a designated area to have patients. There was a lack of facilities such as oxygen outlets and monitors.

He said there were "appallingly poor standards of sanitation" with no dedicated toilet or sink on the corridors, where up to 59 patients have been known to be at any one time.

"There is no isolation facility and poor infection control on the corridors," he said.

At one stage, three people with the contagious bacterial infection TB were left in the corridor, Dr Gray said.

"This is not the first cardiac arrest of a virtual ward patient . . . and at some point in the future there may well be another cardiac arrest on the virtual ward if overcrowding continues," he said.

Dublin county coroner Dr Kieran Geraghty said the hospital "sounds like a very dangerous place to be for anybody let alone a sick patient".

Dr Gray said he and his colleagues have complained about these conditions to the Human Rights Commission, the Health Service Executive, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) and the Medical Council but that overcrowding was still continuing.


The inquest heard that Mr Walsh was one of 38 patients in the virtual ward on the day of his death. Two of these patients had been in the virtual ward for longer than 24 hours.

While awaiting a bed in a ward, Mr Walsh's condition deteriorated and he was pronounced dead shortly after 4am. A post-mortem examination found Mr Walsh had died of cardiac arrhythmia secondary to bronchopneumonia.

Anne Donovan, director of nursing at Tallaght Hospital, said nobody could stand over the fact that patients were waiting in a corridor. However, she said the corridors were the safest place for patients to be when there are no alternatives.

John O'Connell, acting CEO of the hospital said the catchment area of Tallaght Hospital was supposed to be 350,000 but in reality it was closer to 500,000.

He said the hospital was unhappy with patients being left in corridors, but things were changing.

"There has been up to 59 patients in corridors in the past. This will never happen again as there is a cap of 25," he said.

Kay Walsh, the deceased's widow, said she was disappointed with the verdict as she felt there was some fault on the part of the hospital.

She said her husband had been in a chair for his whole time in hospital.

Dr Geraghty recorded an open verdict.

Irish Independent