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Priscilla Lynch: Our overcrowded hospitals leaving no dignity for the sick


The number of people waiting on trolleys or overflow beds in hospitals around the country yesterday hovered around the 500 mark, again.

It is easy to become accepting of such shocking statistics when you see them week in week out, and the media moves on to other stories.

However, behind every number on a trolley is a real person; a person who is sick, weak and vulnerable and in desperate need of dignity as well as medical care.

This week the family of Gerry Feeney (81) made public the awful indignities he suffered in Beaumont Hospital.

They allege the former Aer Lingus foreman (inset), who passed away at the end of January, three weeks after being discharged from Beaumont, was left in a soiled state “with his nappy down around him” sitting in a chair in full public view.

His niece Ann Marie Feeney said he was treated without dignity during his stay in Beaumont.

“He was actually left sitting out in public...the pictures don’t depict the sheer horror of what happened…he had no dignity,” she told RTE’s radio yesterday.


Her uncle, Ms Feeney added, was previously “always well groomed... you could smell the aftershave off him before you would see him”. She said he would have been very distressed to be left unwashed and changed.

In a statement, Beaumont Hospital said the matters raised by Mr Feeney’s family were of “deep concern” and are being investigated.

Sadly Mr Feeney’s story is far from unique. Hospital overcrowding and emergency department chaos are regular features in the headlines on our health service.

This winter trolley numbers hit a record 600, and Beaumont’s Emergency Department (ED) had to go off line on a number of occasions and cancel elective surgery, such was the scale of its problems.

How can patients possibly receive safe, high quality and dignified care in such circumstances?

If you use social media it is not hard to find numerous heartbreaking photos and stories of the horrendous experiences of vulnerable patients, the elderly in particular, in our EDs.

Contrast these harrowing images and stories with the photographs published yesterday of Health Minister Leo Varadkar holding a tiny infant during his official opening of the new neonatal unit at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street.

This new facility is very welcome but just as infants must be treated with dignity and care in the best possible surroundings, so must those at later stages of life, such as elderly patients in our EDs.


Moreover, while new technology and facilities are great, the most basic principle of our health system is to provide optimal one-to-one care for patients, with dignity and              respect.

What dignity is there for patients in our overcrowded hospitals, fighting for the attention of overburdened staff, while being kept in uncomfortable chairs and trolleys in circumstances that are inadequate for proper infection control?

‘None’ is the answer. But we, both the public and those in charge, have become complacent about it. We must not continue to accept these shocking failings of care.