By David Raleigh
Hundreds of nurses and midwives gathered at Cork and Limerick University Hospitals this lunchtime for a second day of planned protests.
They held demonstrations outside the front entrances of the respective hospitals to protest against the overcrowding crisis and staff shortages.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation say they are planning further protests at other hospitals over the coming weeks.
Nurses in Limerick described hellish conditions inside University Hospital Limerick (UHL) where 48 patients languished on trolleys today.
The hospital has consistently been the most overcrowded hospital in the country.
More than 60 patients a day are regularly waiting for a bed, according to statistics published daily by the INMO.
A decade ago all 24-hour Emergency Departments in the mid-west region - at Ennis General; St John’s Limerick, and Nenagh General - were reconfigured to UHL.
A €24m Emergency Department opened at the hospital last year but, according to nurses, the trolley crisis has actually worsened.
Management have previously acknowledged on a number of occasions that the hospital is not able to meet the demands of the numbers presenting at its ED.
It has also previously offered apologies to patients for the ongoing crisis, and has requested the Government provide funding for extra beds and nursing staff.
One nurse, Brigid O’Donnell, who is nursing for over 20 years at UHL offered an insight into the crisis at UHL.
Ms O’Donnell said: “If you are a patient in the emergency department…you are (waiting) under lights for the duration of you're stay.”
“There is no dimming of those lights, because you can’t dim (the ED) as it’s an active department.
She didn’t hold back when she described the crisis that is crippling the hospital.
“There aren't enough nurses on the ground. We are bleeding nurses.
“Nurses are not giving even 50% care to their patients because they don't have time
“We can't keep nurses. The most senior nurses cannot cope with (demands) any longer. Our young nurses are not going to stay and put up with the conditions, nor, the pay,” O’Donnell said.
The hospital is “completely overcrowded”.
“We don't have enough beds. We don't have enough staff to provide care for those patients.”
O’Donnell, from Doon, Co Limerick, said people have become desensitised to the crisis.
“It's now acceptable…No one blinks an eye, anymore, about 48/50 people on trollies; It's become the norm,” she added.
Marie O’Brien, a nurse of 40 years, saw the extent of the crisis for herself when she visited the newly opened ED last October as a patient.
She said: “Outside it looked amazing…When I went inside, I was actually gobsmacked when I saw all the patients.
“I felt it was like a mini-Beirut, it was like a war-zone. They were covering their heads from the lights on the ceiling.”
Ann Noonan, aged 51, who works as a theatre nurse at UHL, said she is “embarrassed” about what she earns.
She said: “I'm embarrassed to say I’m 34 years nursing and I’m earning €23 an hour.
“At the end of my 39-hour working week, I get €700 into my hand. It's very little considering its a very responsible job that we do.”
Noonan and her husband are putting three children through college.
“It's catastrophic in UHL. The staff are demoralised and overworked.”
Noonan, from Adare, admitted she has “no incentive to stay” at UHL once her children are finished their education.
She said she does not want her children following her footsteps into nursing: “Absolutely, categorically, no.”
She added: “It’s very disillusioning and very upsetting when you see the way patients are treated. I see patients, lying on trolleys, totally debilitated.”
“These are people, actual people; That’s what (society) doesn't realise when they talk about ‘trolleys’ - these are actually people.”
She said the new ED was “absolutely chock-a-block” on most days.
“The health service is top heavy in administration and there is nobody caring for the patient,” Noonan claimed.