keeping ireland alive

'They thought he might not make it': 24 hours in Ireland's hospitals

Didn’t catch RTÉ’s new documentary about the health service? Here’s what you missed.


MORE THAN 200,000 PEOPLE access the health service in Ireland every day, 200 babies are born and 80 people die.

Viewers of RTÉ One’s latest documentary got an insight into how Ireland’s health service is run last night when the first episode of Keeping Ireland Alive: The health service in a day aired.

Filmed over 24 hours, on 31 May 2016, 75 cameras recorded what was happening at hospitals, clinics and mobile health units all over the country.

The producers of the show have said the goal of the five-part series is to look beyond the headlines we often see about the health service – from overcrowding, waiting lists and lack of resources – to “tell the human stories at the heart of this often controversial but most vital service”.

Last night’s programme followed the journeys of various patients – giving viewers a window into the lives of people who are living with a tumour, dementia, sight loss or are about to give birth.

At Beaumont Hospital, we saw consultant neurosurgeon David O’Brien carry out a major surgery to remove a tumour from the spine of bus driver Brendan Flanagan.

Due to how close the tumour is to Brendan’s spine, David noted there was “no margin of error here, none”, adding: “We’ve got to do it right, we’ll do it right.”

hands new Screengrab / RTÉ Screengrab / RTÉ / RTÉ

David spoke about why he enjoys his work, noting: “I love these cases, this is what we’re trained to do. But it could at any stage get worse, but that’s the nature of the job we do.

As neurosurgeons you get high-risk cases. The bigger the risk, the bigger enjoyment. But sometimes it can knock you in the teeth, you get a complication, that’s tough – you don’t want to see any patient suffering.

The surgery was successful.

Adrian Lynch, channel controller for RTÉ One and RTÉ2, said the documentary was “a huge undertaking”.

This is a warts-and-all documentary series that recognises the great work being carried out on the ground by frontline staff, but which is unflinchingly honest in acknowledging that the system isn’t perfect.

The documentary was produced by Independent Pictures. Its managing director Conor Moloney said filming the series was “a privilege”.

“Through intimate access we witnessed people’s lives being saved or changed forever. Some of what we saw was very profound but this series also celebrates and explores the everyday ways the health service touches us all.”

The programme got a big reaction on Twitter, with Health Minister Simon Harris among those watching. He said the show gave a “brilliant insight” into the health service.

Giving birth 

The documentary also took us to University Hospital Kerry, where midwife Joanne Malik helped a woman as she went into labour with her second baby.

“We can do one-to-one care and, being Kerry, everyone knows everyone so a lot of the time you could open the door to someone that you went to school with and end up having to look after them in labour – which is fine. I’ve gotten used to that, it was very strange at the start,” Joanne said.

The day in question was a quiet one at the maternity ward in Kerry, but the same couldn’t be said for the Mater Hospital in Dublin.

colman Screengrab / RTÉ Screengrab / RTÉ / RTÉ

Viewers got a glimpse inside the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where Dr Colman O’Loughlin and his team struggled to find new beds for patients – a daily occurrence.

I do think we’ve taken a big hit in terms of funding over the years. And, not only have we suffered cutbacks, but we haven’t matched the increased demand that’s required for the population.

“An example of that is the transplant programme, which we started off seven or eight years ago with a projection of 10 to 15 transplants per year. We’re now getting 30 to 40 a year so demand has got higher but we haven’t been funded or resourced for that,” he said.

Audiences were introduced to Micheál O’Flynn from Ballingarry, Co Limerick. The 24 hours being filmed marked his 70th day in the Mater’s ICU. The 43-year-old contracted swine flu and then developed severe viral pneumonia.

He was placed on life support and, at the time of filming, still required mechanical ventilation.

mich Screengrab / RTÉ Screengrab / RTÉ / RTÉ

Micheál’s wife Jackie explained that he got “very sick, very quickly”.

Part of the time they thought he might not make it because he was so sick, but he’s a strong man and he’s been fighting. The 21st of May … we were married 15 years so we celebrated our anniversary here in the ICU.

“I more or else celebrated it on my own, but I was celebrating the fact that he was still here. You know, he’s still here and there’s still hope. While there’s hope you have to hold on to it.”

wife Screengrab / RTÉ Screengrab / RTÉ / RTÉ

After the programme was filmed, Micheál was transferred to University Hospital Limerick, where he is spending more and more time breathing without a ventilator and his condition continues to improve.


Later in the programme we met Martina Bergin who was travelling in Dublin’s inner city with a Safetynet mobile health clinic that provides free primary care to homeless people.

During the show, she met Patrick, a heroin user. He was looking to get methadone, but can’t as he has nowhere to stay.

clinic Screengrab / RTÉ Screengrab / RTÉ / RTÉ

Patrick is 36 years old and said he has been homeless since he was 19. During the course of their conversation, he tells Martina about the death of another homeless man – someone she also knew. He died from a drug overdose in a tent.

Martina noted that the number of people living rough in the capital has jumped in recent times.

“Six years ago I was counting an average maybe of six people on a morning count. This year alone we [once] counted over 130 people,” she said, adding that this number doesn’t include the “hidden homeless”, people sleeping in parks or squatting.

Episode two will air next Monday night. You can watch the watch last night’s episode on the RTÉ Player.

Read: There were more patients on trolleys last month than in any July in the past decade

Read: There are 11,519 children waiting over a year to be seen in an Irish hospital

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