Life

Our already ailing health service deserves political support not uncertainty

Having spent much time at her local A&E recently Leona O'Neill has been horrified by the conditions she has experienced as a patient and mother. But imagine having to work under such conditions – and as we are now in political limbo, things will probably only get worse

We sat across from a man who had cut his hand at work and an aggressive woman who was getting angrier and angrier as the minutes passed about being kept waiting

I'VE had call to use our health services quite a lot over the past couple of weeks. Since the middle of December I have spent many, many hours sitting on hard plastic seats in stuffy, hot and crowded waiting rooms with other sick and sore people, hoping to be seen and feel better.

I sat with my own crying, fevered, sore and sleeping children for endless hours and watched other stressed-out parents endure the same ordeal. And the experiences, bad as they were, have really highlighted to me the frightening ramifications of having political limbo here in the north will further have on our health services.

Last week my daughter fell on to a wooden floor at home and hurt her wrist badly. I administered a bag of frozen food on the injury and hoped that it wouldn't require an A&E visit, for if I was paid by the hour to wait in medical waiting rooms I would be significantly richer than I am now.

But the wrist swelled up and the pain was unbearable so off we went on a Tuesday evening to casualty, praying that the place would be quiet enough. But God must have had his mobile switched off, because when we got there it was packed as usual and we had to stand for a while and wait for a seat alongside a number of other sick people.

The staff were, as always, lovely and checked us in and checked my daughter's wrist out. I asked about approximate waiting times but they couldn't tell us. Eventually we got a seat outside, in between a very drunk man who was sleeping across three seats and two intoxicated chatty teenagers, one of whom was telling a presumably hard-of-hearing person at the other end of the mobile of her calamity in minute detail using language that would have made a sailor blush. We sat across from a man who had cut his hand at work and an aggressive woman who was getting angrier and angrier as the minutes passed about being kept waiting.

My daughter, despite having been given pain medication, cried for an hour straight. Then we entertained ourselves by repeatedly reading a poster outlining the dangers of alcohol – which sat directly above the heads of two men who clearly paid it no nevermind. We watched worried parents carry sick and sore children in through the big doors to the treatment area. We stared at the blackness of a wide-screen television as if willing it to come on and show us anything, even Donald Trump's speeches, or the shopping channel or reruns of the Antique Roadshow.

Four hours of pain and intermittent crying later, my little girl's name was called and we went through to a treatment area to be seen. The staff seemed to be completely run off their feet and not only had to deal with drunk people demanding attention, but people complaining angrily about having to wait so long to be seen.

We saw a lovely doctor who spent time examining the injured wrist and explaining to my girl what would happen next and that we'd have to go and get an X-ray for a clearer picture. We waited there for another hour and a half because the one radiologist who was on duty was called away to do an emergency scan. The poor woman came rushing back to her station to find 12 sore and agitated patients waiting to be seen and spent the rest of her shift apologising profusely.

As we waited I looked around the treatment area. Staff were busying themselves looking after people, there were several police officers there waiting for someone they had brought in, there were drunk people stumbling around shouting at the staff, babies and children screaming at the top of their lungs, old and sick and scared people.

Staff were constantly telling patients that yes, they were desperately trying to find them a bed in the hospital, that they were trying their best, and seemed to be constantly apologising to everyone for the waiting times.

My daughter's wrist was fractured. She got a beautifully colourful wrist strap, a pat on the head for being so brave and went on our way, thanking the doctor for seeing us.

I thought to myself, there is no way I would want to work in this environment. It's bad enough having to parachute into this madness when you or your loved one is sick. It's just too tough. People shouting in your face, being abusive, having to constantly apologise and that's even before you start dealing with ambulances arriving with desperately ill and terribly injured people and treating life or death injuries.

I know a fair few nurses and they all went into the profession to help people, but from what I can see, our health service is haemorrhaging and it's going to need serious work to get it back to full health. And with Stormont in limbo it's just going to get much worse.

Our health service workers are real heroes. They work in unimaginably stressful conditions to help save and heal our loved ones. They deserve our respect and our support, not more cuts and more uncertainty.

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