Thursday 19 July 2018

'My father's last days were not dignified' - Grieving son criticises 'dire state' of emergency services

Liam Gallagher at his home in Rathgar. Inset, his father Michael who passed away on December 17 at University Hospital Waterford. Pic: Steve Humphreys
Liam Gallagher at his home in Rathgar. Inset, his father Michael who passed away on December 17 at University Hospital Waterford. Pic: Steve Humphreys

Sasha Brady

A Waterford man has criticised the "dire state" of Ireland's emergency services after his father died 11 days after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Michael Gallagher (75) admitted himself to University Hospital Waterford on Friday, December 1, suffering with shortness of breath and an extremely bloated abdomen.

He passed away on December 17, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.

His son Liam has written an open letter to Health Minister Simon Harris in which he highlights his father's journey while at hospital, "particularly relating to the dire state of emergency services there".

Liam Gallagher at his home in Rathgar. His Father Michael who had spent three days waiting on a Hospital Trolley passed away on December 17th 2017 at University Hospital Waterford.
Pic Steve Humphreys
Liam Gallagher at his home in Rathgar. His Father Michael who had spent three days waiting on a Hospital Trolley passed away on December 17th 2017 at University Hospital Waterford. Pic Steve Humphreys

Speaking today on RTE's Liveline, Liam said that he wrote the letter to request that preventable risks around patient safety be addressed so that people like his father could avoid "undue suffering".

When Michael first started feeling unwell the family assumed it was cardiac-related as Michael had heart surgery a few years before. He presented himself to the Emergency Department of UHW on Friday, December 1 but was informed that the hospital could not perform an ultrasound over the weekend and he would have to wait until Monday.

Michael had to wait on a trolley in the corridor of the Emergency Department for three days. On Monday he was upgraded to a bed in a corridor in another ward and on Wednesday, December 6, Michael was finally admitted to a medical ward.

"I have to stress that once he was admitted into the Oncology Department he received fantastic care. We don't have any issue with the quality of care from the medical staff," Liam told Liveline.

"But it was totally unsatisfactory to be left on a trolley for three days. There were people in a similar, highly vulnerable position who were also waiting on trolleys.

"One of the main issues he had was not being able to sleep. The lights were on 24/7. It's not a safe area. He received an enema on the corridor, which was totally undignified.

Michael who had spent three days waiting on a hospital trolley passed away on December 17 at University Hospital Waterford. Pic: Steve Humphreys
Michael who had spent three days waiting on a hospital trolley passed away on December 17 at University Hospital Waterford. Pic: Steve Humphreys

"There was only one toilet to serve multiple people and you weren't accompanied to the toilet by [medical staff]. There were patients helping each other to the bathroom.

Liam said the family's main concerns relate to the overstretching of resources within the Emergency Department and how it "doesn't promote patient safety, dignity or any level of confidentiality".

Michael received an advanced cancer diagnosis on December 7 following a CT scan and subsequently had 17 litres of fluid drained from his abdomen.

The Gallagher family understand that Michael's cancer was terminal but they feel that if he had received a diagnosis when he had first presented himself to the Emergency Department, he would have access to symptom relief earlier which could make his last few weeks more bareable.

"He would have gone straight to palliative care which would have been two or three days earlier," said Liam.

"I know that doesn't sound like much but if you're in that much discomfort - and he actually said that he couldn't imagine this level of pain, it was quite hard to hear that - he would have been breathing easier, his pain would have been lessened.

"His last days were not dignified. An elderly man, the first time to go into an Emergency Department... the devastation he had to experience, he just couldn't understand this was the case."

"What was particularly scary, the most shocking thing to us, he had the aspiration of getting home for Christmas. He was diagnosed on December 7, he knew he had a short period of time with us but if he decided to leave the hospital he would have had to go to the end of the queue and that put a lot of fear into him about whether he could go home or not."

Liam said once his father was admitted into a ward "the quality of care and compassion shown to him was fantastic".

Paying tribute to his father, Liam said he was a "very generous man".

"He cared about his community, loved his home county. He died on my daughter's 10th birthday but my children saw him before he passed away.

"He was very committed. The reason I wrote this open letter to Simon Harris is because it's what my father would have done."

This week there were a record numbers of patients languishing on trolleys in the country's hospitals. Although the figure decreased slightly today, there were still 12 children waiting on trolleys.

The latest figures were being released as health chiefs met to discuss initiatives to relive the unprecedented crisis.

The demand for access to hospital beds is traditionally at its peak in the first week of January, with the flu season compounding stretched resources.

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