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'I tried discharging myself twice': Patients describe treatment at University Hospital Limerick

Readers reported a lack of privacy as they waited for hours on trolleys, while others said they now avoid the hospital completely.

WE ASKED READERS to get in touch and share their experiences of University Hospital Limerick (UHL).

The hospital has frequently been in the news in recent months. 

RTÉ News reported last week that 450 patients who were due to attend hospitals across the UHL group for elective procedures had their surgeries cancelled since the start of this year. HSE chief Bernard Gloster said “it’s not acceptable”

Meanwhile, the HSE has launched a review into the death of a woman in her 30s who died soon after presenting as unwell at UHL and going through a miscarriage. 

Additionally, the UHL Hospital Group launched an internal investigation into the death of a 16-year old girl who died in the hospital in January. This comes after another teenage girl, Aoife Johnston, died after developing meningitis and languishing on a trolley for 12 hours in the overcrowded Emergency Department in December 2022. There is to be an inquiry into her death.

UHL’s Emergency Department has been consistently and chronically overcrowded for years; the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said recently that overcrowding records had been broken three times in the space of just two weeks at the hospital. 

The INMO described the overcrowding as ‘unacceptable and dangerous for patients’ and said it was having a ‘very damaging impact on the morale of the nursing staff in the hospital who are trying their best to provide safe patient care in an extremely trying environment’. 

We asked readers to tell us their experiences in the hospital that has been mired with controversy.

While most responses were tales of long wait times and inadequate care, we also received several positive stories of an efficient hospital and caring staff.

UHL declined to comment on the stories. 

Lack of privacy

Noelette’s daughter (35) is diabetic and is suffering from kidney failure. She described her daughter’s experience at the hospital as ‘horrific’. 

“She was on a trolley for four days and there was barely room to walk down the small area outside the nurses’ station because of the trolleys on either side.”

“After she was admitted she had an ECG for her heart and this was carried out in the corridor with my daughter holding up a towel to cover herself.  The bathroom door had to be left open so the nurses could see the old people when they went to the toilet. My daughter was straight across from the bathroom door.

“She eventually got to a ward where the bathroom was dirty and the shower was unusable, it was so dirty and old.”

“My daughter has long term medical issues and her biggest fear is not so much being sick, but having to be admitted to UHL knowing the treatment, or in fact not treatment, she will get in A&E.”

Victoria is a researcher at the University of Limerick and she said UHL is “the worst place to be when you are really sick”. 

When she fell ill at home earlier this week, she was taken by ambulance to UHL, where she says conditions were “detrimental” to patients. 

“The public toilets are dirty and disgusting. I’m in a trolley in a corridor surrounded by people of all ages and conditions. There’s neither privacy, nor dignity.”

“After 24 hours of being here with the same clothes, I asked to please have access to a shower. Can you believe it that the place I was offered was dirty, smelly and no water was provided in the shower?

Is the health system in Limerick for human beings or for meat?

One reader told of their 93-year-old mother who spent 14 hours in the Emergency Department.

“My mum waited in an overcrowded corridor. The medical staff did all within their powers to make her stay comfortable whilst she was awaiting a bed allocation … There were several other patients in highly distressed situations.

“After being admitted and treated for her illness she contracted a highly contagious virus which I was informed is widespread within the hospital.

“Thankfully my mother has made a full recovery.

“I fully appreciate the medical staff are under a lot of stress with inadequate resources, whilst we the public pump billions of euros into the system.”


Joanne was in UHL’s emergency department last month and says she experienced the severe overcrowding.

“After examination I was sent to a nurse to get bloods taken. I was then sent back out to waiting room where others on drips were waiting. I was put on fluids and had to share a pole with another patient. This pole had a long streak of dried blood on it. When I said this to the nurse she just shrugged her shoulders.”

Joanne said that only one out of three toilets in her area of the hospital were working, and it was “filthy”.

“A nurse came to bring me for an x-ray which wasn’t for me. She got the wrong person. A doctor went to give me IV paracetamol two hours after I had been giving it already. [They] clearly hadn’t looked at my chart.

“While on the trolley I witnessed one doctor sneeze into his hands wipe it on his pants and go into a patient without washing his hands. Another doctor was coughing and choking and didn’t cover their mouth at any stage.”

One reader who wished to remain anonymous told us they worked in UHL for four years, but left for fear of being sued as the pressure on staff made it difficult to provide a high standard of care.

“Every single day at least 50% of our charts would be missing. I was forced to see a sizeable number of patients daily without being able to see their previous treatment and relying on patients themselves (who were often completely unreliable historians) to give me their history.

“It definitely compromised the care I could deliver and every week I expected the axe to fall and that somebody would sue me. At which point I would have been hung out to dry while management covered their butts.

“It is still going on, it is systemic, it is utterly dangerous and it is not being addressed.”

‘Third world hospital’

Niamh was in A&E at UHL in August, and described it as a “third world hospital”.

“Knowing how bad UHL is, I decided to go to the Laya clinic instead as I have private health insurance.

“The clinic said I needed a blood test to confirm what was wrong and were referring me to UHL for it. I begged the doctor to refer me to another hospital but they insisted that I go there due to my symptoms to be quick getting the blood test results in case it was meningitis.”

When she got there, she saw trolleys lining every hall and filling every available space.

“My heart truly went out to them most of the patients were elderly.”

After nearly 12 hours, she still had not had a blood test or received antibiotics, like she had expected.

Three days went by and Niamh tried to discharge herself.

“I couldn’t bear to be there any longer listening to other patients cursing and shouting throughout the night, and the numerous prisoners being escorted in handcuffs by guards over that weekend there were two.

“While on the trolley lined up to the side and sandwiched between other trolleys, I had to give Covid swabs, had an ECG and tried to sleep with my belongings under my pillow.

“I tried discharging myself twice and was told by the doctor that I was at serious risk of internal bleeding as my platelets were so low. He said he did not want me to discharge myself and then said ‘you have it pretty good here, the wards aren’t much better’.”

When she was finally given a bed, she says the window in her room wouldn’t close, the TV was broken and the bathroom door wouldn’t lock.

Good experiences

Of the experiences shared with The Journal, some were positive.

Ruth, who had a fall in December, said it was a “miracle” that she managed to get in and out of A&E at UHL in five hours.

She’d been referred to UHL after being seen at Laya Health clinic in Limerick.

“I was referred for a brain scan in UHL due to red flags. I refused to go, knowing what UHL is like, but eventually relented as the Galway Clinic was already closed for the day and there were no other options and the scan was deemed urgent and necessary,” she said.

“I arrived at A&E at 5:20pm. I was triaged very quickly and sent to the second triage waiting area. I noted there were not as many patients as I’ve seen previously.

“I was seen again after about 30 minutes and a CT scan was ordered. I was asked to wait in the waiting area but I requested a trolley as I wasn’t feeling well. After the scan I returned to a trolley at 8:20pm and waited for the results.

“I was discharged before 10pm having spoken to the consultant who read the scan and with a prescription.”

Another patient, Joseph, shared his positive experience in the hospital.

“Several weeks ago I attended UHL and found medical staff, nursing staff, care staff, catering staff, [all] gave me first class service and attention.”

Charlotte, who visited the hospital with an ear infection, had an “exemplary” experience.

She was seen initially “within an hour and a half” and the rest of the process, including tests, treatments and a prescription, were all completed within two hours.

Paschal has been a patient at UHL four times in the last year.

I have nothing but praise for the staff, nurses, doctors, and paramedics.

“I was treated with exceptional care, and respect throughout my stay, even though I had a 36 hour stay in an A&E annex until I was admitted to a room in a ward for isolation.

“I know the staff work under horrendous conditions … It is so sad that as a senior citizen the prospect of visiting a hospital is a nightmare because of shortages.”

A nurse living and working in the mid-west told The Journal that negative coverage of the hospital has frightened people off getting help.

“As we live in an area where UHL is the only place where we can access an ED, these people had no other option.

“We don’t live in Dublin where you have multiple options such as Beaumont, The Mater, Connelly, St Vincent’s, Tallaght and multiple private options also.

“I meet people every day, some of whom have not been to UHL but blankly refuse to go there when we refer them due to a deterioration in their health.”

Some quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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