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People will only go to A&E if their lives depend on it — poll reveals

Six serious incidents involving harm to patients in A&Es since December 


Healthcare has skyrocketed to become the public’s key priority for the Government to address. Stock image

Healthcare has skyrocketed to become the public’s key priority for the Government to address. Stock image

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly


Healthcare has skyrocketed to become the public’s key priority for the Government to address. Stock image

Plummeting public confidence in the country’s health service has been laid bare in a new Sunday Independent/Ireland Thinks opinion poll, which has found almost three-quarters (72pc) of the public would only attend a hospital emergency department if they thought their life depended on it.

The public’s damning condemnation of the health service comes as this newspaper can reveal that six ‘serious incidents’ involving harm to patients were recorded in emergency departments in the first five weeks of Ireland’s worst ever hospital overcrowding crisis.

The poll, conducted last Thursday and Friday, also found only one in four people (23pc) would attend a hospital if their GP recommended they do so.

A mere 2pc of those polled said they would go to an emergency department if they felt unwell, and the same amount said they would go if asked by a family member.

With a record 931 patients forced to wait on trolleys in overcrowded hospital wards and corridors last week, healthcare has skyrocketed to become the public’s key priority for the Government to address.

The number of people highlighting healthcare as their main concern has increased from 24pc in December to a significant 58pc in this poll.

The poll also found the vast majority of the public (61pc) blame the trolley crisis on poor management of state funding by the HSE and/or individual hospital groups.

Another 24pc believe both the HSE and hospital groups are responsible for the overcrowding crisis that engulfs the health service every winter.

Fewer than one in 10 (8pc) believe a lack of government funding is the cause of the annual hospital trolley controversy.

The public also weighed in behind Health Minister Stephen Donnelly’s call for hospital consultants to be required to work weekends as part of their new contract, with 67pc of the public supporting his proposal.

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Meanwhile, it can also be revealed the six serious incidents leading to patient harm, which occurred from December 1 to January 5, were logged as having a severity rating of ‘extreme or major’ and are being investigated by the HSE.

The HSE has not disclosed details of the serious incidents, or the hospitals involved.

However, the cases are likely to include the untimely death from meningitis of a teenager who had been waiting for treatment at Limerick University Hospital’s emergency department. The six ‘serious incidents’ recorded in emergency departments were among a total of 72 logged across all departments in public and voluntary hospitals during that period.

​The figures underline the risk to patients of harm and even death as they wait for treatment in congested emergency departments.

The HSE’s interim CEO, Stephen Mulvany, said last week he did not want to comment on individual cases — but that all adverse events are “fully 
investigated” so that lessons can be learned.

He said “every health system in the world has avoidable and preventable deaths and harm, and Ireland is no different in that context — and we know that over-congestion in EDs increases the risk of harm to patients and that’s a fact. So that is why we’re seeking to take all these measures — to mitigate that as much as possible.”

Adverse incidents are logged on the HSE’s National Incident Management System, which rates them in terms of severity, and whether they should be forwarded for further review.

The six serious incidents logged in A&Es since December 1 all required further review, and were rated as ‘extreme or major’ in terms of severity.

“It is the policy of the Health Service Executive that all incidents are identified, reported and reviewed so that learning from events can be shared to improve the quality and safety of services,” the HSE said.

Stephen McMahon, of the Irish Patients’ Association, said the data appears to confirm that harm has been caused to patients during the current hospital overcrowding crisis. “Studies have shown that such events in Irish hospitals are under-reported by as much as a factor of two,” he said.

“While the number of adverse incidents may appear small, these numbers are likely to increase.

“We would encourage all healthcare professions to report adverse events as they are aware of them to the National Incident Management System.

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