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Sanctuary Under Siege – St James’ Hospital

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Sanctuary Under Siege – St James’ Hospital – Alan Finn  tells us his experience in St James’ Hospital & how he feels staff are coping with cuts, as well as the affect on patients 

Recently, an unexpected illness saw me spirited away to St James’ Hospital, Dublin 8.  My illness saw my stay extend to 5 weeks.  In order to fight my boredom and of course, in deference to you the reader, I started to record my experience in St James’ and talk to the staff to get a picture of life for staff and patient alike in Ireland’s biggest hospital.

When I was admitted to the hospital, I spent 19 hours on a trolley in A & E.  However, I was the lucky one there were people waiting for far longer. At one time, there were 39 patients languishing on trolleys in A & E.  It should be noted that staff were doing the best they could in the situation, however, there quite simply wasn’t beds. I spent the first 2 weeks in a ward that was only intended to remain open from Monday to Friday, but due to increasing numbers coming from Accident and Emergency it had to become fully operational for the full 7 day week.

My daily routine in this make shift ward was as follows, up for breakfast between 8 and 9am, the breakfast consist of a pot of tea, a bowl of cereal or porridge, and either white or brown bread.  Lunch was around midday, the options included Salmon or Haddock in batter, Steak (well something similar to it anyway), Beef Casserole, with potato and vegetables, followed by Jelly and Ice Scream. Finally, tea at about 5pm, again there was a decent choice and the food was ok (you wouldn’t bring a date here) but the portions where quite small, the hospital would be ideal if you where on a diet. The staff were courteous and compassionate.

To be honest, the staffing level seemed initially very good, though the problems of staff shortages became apparent as my stay continued. While, I was there I saw shortages on each ward that I was on, especially at night.  On one occasion, I saw two regular nurses covering up to 30 patients with the help of one carer. Now some patients are sicker than others, and naturally would require more medical attention.  It frightens me at times to think at any one time a nurse can be responsible for up to 15 patients.   Occasionally, the carers will have to be ferried between wards in order to meet rising demand meaning nurses have even less support.  My brief conversations with the staff were always held with tired and fatigued faces.

Another issue my long stay in the hospital revealed was the disparity in working conditions between nurses on contract and agency nurses.  Nurses, who found employment in St James’ Hospital through an agency, are not entitled to sick pay and they receive no holiday pay, despite doing an excellent job, in often stressful conditions they are, in my opinion, not treated fairly.  Though if I am honest, I would question the practice of employment agencies in general, it reminds me of the unions from “On the Waterfront”.

Of course, it isn’t just nurses that are feeling the pinch in this time of cutbacks. My conversations with doctors at the hospital revealed that they often are expected to work 24 hour shifts, particularly at weekends.  The doctors that I spoke to believed that this was a false economy as exhaustion meant less efficiency.   Doctors were primarily there to deal with priority patients and put in lines for people who were on IV drips. This is usually an antibiotic in a liquid form, which goes directly into one of a patient’s veins. If a doctor was to make a mistake here the outcome could be detrimental to the wellbeing of the patient

My stay gratefully ended and I could return to the creature comforts of home.  I write this article not to deride St James’ Hospital, its staff or even its management but instead, as a testament to what cuts look like in real life terms.  Patients in great anguish (as we all are when we are sick) left to wait in uncomfortable circumstances, staff worked to the bone in near 19th Industrial Revolution conditions and inadequate attention given to the ill due to shortages.  This is not an attack on anyone but a plea, cuts were bound to happen but much like the surgeon with his scalpel, we too must be precise where we make them, so as not to do harm.


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