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Dublin: 17°C Sunday 19 September 2021

'Last Tuesday was the hardest and most dangerous shift I've ever worked'

Every morning and every evening nurses are in tears, tears of frustration, despair, hopelessness and exhaustion, writes Carol Cronin.

Carol Cronin

LAST TUESDAY, I worked the hardest and most dangerous shift ever in the Emergency Department, and I am not alone.

I am writing this in anticipation that candidates hoping for election will take note of what is happening on the frontline and help us in this crisis.

In this week leading up to the voting I have not seen any candidate offer help.

Firstly, I would like to point out that this crisis has been ongoing for a number of years now. The government downgraded smaller hospitals, closed wards, closed their emergency departments and closed operating theatres.

This resulted in a higher acuity of patients attending the larger hospitals. The focus over the last year has been on the Emergency Department (ED), but the result of all those drastic cuts reaches much further than the ED.

Everyday consultant surgeons are forced to cancel elective surgeries; nurses and doctors are expected to nurse and care for patients on extra trolleys on overcrowded wards without proper suction or oxygen points.

Outpatient departments are full to capacity and radiography departments, such as MRI, are backed up with appointments for over a year.

Back down in the Emergency Department you can expect to meet very skilled, knowledgeable and caring senior and junior doctors and nurses.

Unfortunately, what you may also see is a cancer sufferer, sitting on a chair on the corridor because lying on the trolley is too uncomfortable for them. Alongside them, another cancer patient lying on a trolley, not isolated due to lack of space while a patient, with Deep Vein Thrombosis waits for days in the ED corridor for a bed on the ward and a patient with psychological issues waits on a trolley surrounded by other patients.

Privacy and dignity are two elements of care we cannot deliver efficiently to patients in the environment we are forced to work in.

Private v Public

I understand that many ministers and political candidates are fortunate enough to be able to afford private health care. However, the reality is that many citizens of Ireland cannot afford it and a public hospital is their only choice and the picture I have depicted above is what they can expect.

In any case, if someone in power is faced with a situation where they are rushed to our emergency department, we are the team they would want to see standing over them.

Every day and every night we are constantly met with the question from the public in the department, “How can you work here in this mess?”

The reality is that we cannot. We cannot cope any longer. In the past year our department has lost numerous senior skilled nurses, and many more will leave if things do not change immediately.

We are physically drained from nursing patients on trolleys, from pulling trolleys, from running up and down the corridors. We are emotionally drained, at the end of every shift. Every morning and every evening nurses are in tears, tears of frustration, despair, hopelessness and exhaustion.

I do this job because I love caring for people, I want to make a difference – whether that is getting a patient a pillow and blanket or resuscitating them from a cardiac arrest.

When we arrive at work we are constantly understaffed and overcrowded. Last Tuesday night we had seven emergency care nurses and 110 patients between the department and the waiting room, many of these patients acutely unwell.

We adapt to unacceptable substandard conditions every day. We are undoubtedly excellent at our jobs, we are highly skilled, knowledgeable and compassionate.

We are not failing patients, the government is and we continue to elect these people into the Dáil.

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‘The escalation situation’

Recent strikes were called off by the INMO (Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation) and a deal was made. This deal consisted of an escalation policy, which, if we hit certain triggers such as patients waiting nine hours or over to get a bed, we escalate the situation and alert management and expect a proactive response.

It has four escalation levels starting at green, then orange, progressing onto red and then critically, black.

Since it has come into place my hospital has been between level orange and red and in the past week, level black. The deals made were portrayed to the public as ED nurses receiving two extra holiday days in the year and more money. “Ye got what ye wanted – more money, so what’s the problem?” a comment from a male patient I recall after that deal was struck.

The public need to know that we never asked for more money (nor received it in any deal), more holidays or more managerial positions. We are, and always were, fighting for the public.

I urge political candidates to visit Emergency Departments in their area. If you want to be elected come in and speak to the people lying on trolleys!

They may very well get some strong opinions, which will be an example to them of the verbal abuse that faces us every shift.

We are underpaid and under-appreciated for the work we do.

I am asking political candidates to help us, not offer their ‘support’. Give us help. We are met with empty promises and zero actions.

We have heard promises from candidates in this general election that they will ‘keep the recovery going’ if they get elected into power. Pardon me if I am wrong but the recovery never even started in any HSE Emergency Department.

Carol Cronin is a staff nurse at an Emergency Department and a member of the INMO. 

Read: Elderly woman spends 30 hours on a chair before being moved to trolley at Beaumont

About the author:

Carol Cronin

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