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People ‘in fear’ of attending UHL emergency department

People living in counties Clare, Limerick and Tipperary are “in fear” of having to go to University Hospital Limerick’s emergency department and “would rather die at home”, according to a local campaigner.

Clare co-ordinator of the Mid-West Hospital Campaign Noeleen Moran was speaking after a verdict of medical misadventure was returned at the inquest into the death of Aoife Johnston.

Ms Johnston, from Shannon in Co Clare, died from meningitis on 19 December 2022.

The 16-year-old had presented at the UHL emergency department two days earlier, with suspected sepsis, but faced a lengthy wait for treatment.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Noeleen Moran said no family should have to go through what the Johnston family had been through and that there had been “a legacy of failure by successive health ministers”.

Aoife Johnston died in December 2022, after a lengthy wait for treatment for suspected sepsis

She said emergency departments in the area had been closed in 2009 and overcrowding was “a consequence of that”.

“No amount of campaigning, raising the issue and expressing our concerns around overcrowding has resulted in any meaningful changes to address the situation,” she said.

“What the inquest has led to this week is that we’ve heard not just from the family, but members of staff who haven’t been able to speak on this issue in such detail.

“Tragically, it has come about as a result of Aoife Johnston’s death, that there is a focus now on really what’s going on inside the walls of the emergency department in UHL and it’s completely unacceptable to allow this to continue.

“There’s been a lot of words of sympathy expressed to the family but there’s no sincerity behind those words unless actions follow from this. The only meaningful action that’s going to change things in the midwest is an additional emergency department,” Ms Moran said.

She said that once a patient gets through the emergency department and into the hospital system, there is a good standard of care, but the emergency department is “not big enough” to cater for the population it serves.

Ms Moran said there was a “real and urgent need” for action and for politicians to make firm commitments and that emergency services need to be put back into the midwest alongside the emergency department in Limerick.

“We need to see additional services going in, this is the only way that this situation is going to turn around,” she said.

“Talk is cheap and there’s been enough empty rhetoric down the years, we need to see action follow from this.”

Ms Moran said there were many families in the midwest grieving as a result of failures in the health system.

She said many people would attempt to attend the emergency department in Galway rather than UHL, which she said was “not always feasible” as there is no join-up between the two.

She said that if people choose not to attend the UHL emergency department then they are “dying quietly” in their own homes which is “not being recorded”.

Even if one emergency department was reopened in the midwest it would make a difference, she said.

“The only way to bring attention to this issue is to stand together and work together. Even one would make a massive, massive difference to all of us … there is undoubtedly a need for another emergency department in the midwest,” Ms Moran added.

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