Woman injured in car crash was 16 hours in UHL wheelchair before seeing doctor 

Julie McKenna, a social care manager, said she 'never felt as vulnerable or afraid' as when she sat among a sea of trolleys in the overcrowded emergency department
Woman injured in car crash was 16 hours in UHL wheelchair before seeing doctor 

Julie McKenna said it was her duty to speak out about 'outrageous' conditions in the 'not fit for purpose' emergency department at University Hospital Limerick. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

A woman injured in a serious road collision has claimed she spent 16 hours in a wheelchair in the emergency department (ED) at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) before a doctor was available to see her.

Julie McKenna, a social care manager, said she “never felt as vulnerable or afraid” as when she sat among a sea of trolleys in the overcrowded ED after being brought there by ambulance with severe pain in her head, neck, and back.

Ms McKenna, 44, from Cappamore, said she did not blame staff as they were “completely overrun, overtired, and burned out”. However, she said it was her “duty” to speak out about “outrageous” conditions in the “not fit for purpose” ED.

“It’s absolutely crazy in there. I was brought in by ambulance around 4pm on the 28 of August from a high-impact car crash. The paramedics were fabulous, they did a really thorough job, but the system in the ED was completely overrun,” said Ms McKenna.

“I was put in a wheelchair and brought to Zone A and just literally left there to my own devices, nobody checked my blood pressure, nobody checked anything.

"Around 9pm that night I looked for pain relief and a doctor was quite abrupt with me and told me that it was because of people like me making requests and demands that I was holding up the process. I was told to look around me and see all the patients that they had in there — I don’t blame them, I understand it was their tiredness, frustration, their burnout."

University Hospital Limerick. Picture: Dan Linehan
University Hospital Limerick. Picture: Dan Linehan

Ms McKenna said the hospital "is not fit for purpose" and is "completely understaffed". She felt that the staff are at their wits' end and "are doing an extremely good job in horrendous circumstances". 

“The level of trauma staff are experiencing must be off the charts. It’s unfair to expect anybody to work in those conditions, and it’s unfair to expect somebody who is unwell to present to a facility like that.

“At 4am on the 29th, I had to go and make staff aware that I was there 12 hours, and I was told I would be another 14 hours waiting. I said to them that I hadn’t been seen by anybody, I didn’t know if I had a head injury, a neck injury, internal bleeding, because my stomach and my chest was starting to swell because it was badly bruised.

“The nurses were apologising that they had no doctors available as there was only a couple of doctors on duty and both doctors were in ‘resus’ (resuscitation) all evening.” 

Ms McKenna said she received pain relief from paramedics at the scene of the crash around 4pm, and again at 9pm and 3am in UHL.

She was finally seen by a doctor at 8.30am and discharged at 9am on August 29, without being scanned.

Ms McKenna described the cramped conditions in the ED as a “fire hazard as you could not draw your leg through the trolleys”.

Whatever about the car accident — I never in my life felt so afraid and so vulnerable as I did in that hospital on that night. It is absolutely beyond ridiculous."

Ms McKenna is still suffering from “severe bruising, severe swelling, and headaches”.

On September 4, she went to St John’s Hospital injuries unit and received an x-ray to her right shoulder after it was injured in the collision.

Ms McKenna said: “I am a 44-year old woman, I’m empowered and well able to advocate for myself, but my concern is for elderly and vulnerable patients who are in there on their own and have no one to advocate for them.

“It’s appalling, like third world conditions, our hospital is completely overrun and beyond breaking point, and it’s not good enough. If people don’t highlight it and don’t speak out, then we become part of the problem, we become complacent, so I have a duty to the staff and patients to highlight it.” 

On the day Ms McKenna was discharged from hospital, there were 463 patients on trolleys nationally, including 62 in UHL.

It comes as a report by consultancy group Deloitte described the infrastructure on the UHL site as “not fit for purpose and requires replacement”.

The report, published last Friday, found that despite a “significant improvement” in bed capacity, in late 2020/early 2021, there was still “a gap between capacity and demand for inpatient beds”.

UHL has been contacted for a response to Ms McKenna’s patient experience.

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