Woman dies after paramedic finds her on A&E trolley in cardiac arrest

The Ulster hospital in Dundonald
Seanín Graham

AN ELDERLY woman was discovered in cardiac arrest on a hospital trolley by a passing paramedic in one of Northern Ireland's busiest A&E departments and died minutes later, the Irish News has learned.

The pensioner, who was in her eighties, was a patient at the Ulster hospital in Dundonald and was found unresponsive by a paramedic around lunchtime on Tuesday afternoon last week. She had been on the trolley for more than 18 hours.

The paramedic immediately alerted nurses in the unit and despite resuscitation attempts the woman died.

It is understood family members had been with the patient the previous evening and shortly before her death and were contacted by telephone by senior hospital staff.

The Irish News asked the trust if the patient's death was being investigated as a 'Serious Adverse Incident' (SAI) - the highest level internal probe when concerns are raised about a patient's care - and if it had been referred to the coroner.

A spokeswoman for the South Eastern Trust, which is responsible for the Ulster hospital, said: "We have reviewed this patient's care. Despite the current pressures on Emergency Departments right across Northern Ireland, both the trust and this patient's family are satisfied the patient received the appropriate treatment, care and attention from our staff. Out of respect for this patient's family, we will not make any further comment."

The incident took place exactly six years to the day that a 77-year-old man died alone and unnoticed on an A&E trolley in the Royal Victoria hospital's casualty unit in Belfast.

It is understood the woman was taken by ambulance to the Ulster hospital at around 6.30pm last Monday evening suffering from sepsis but could not be admitted to a ward due to the large demand for beds.

The paramedic was walking through the unit shortly before 1pm the following day when he noticed the woman and went to check on her.

The hospital stopped taking 999 ambulance admissions, with paramedic crews diverted to other hospitals for the next three hours.

A health service worker, who was in the Ulster on Tuesday, described the scene as "chaotic" with escalating numbers of trolley waits.

The senior consultant who oversees the Ulster hospital's A&E unit, Dr Sean McGovern, posted a tweet the same day in which he criticised "overcrowded" conditions, warning they were putting "patients and staff at risk".

Dr McGovern, who is also the vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and is clinical director of emergency medicine at the Ulster hospital, wrote: "Well over 200 12 hrs breaches (of target waiting times) in NI region across all departments in the last 24 hours.

"Crowded ED's putting patients and staff at risk. Older frail people will be the majority of those waiting for a bed. Needs targeted investment to improve situation."

The highly respected medic expressed his frustration with the waiting list crisis.

"One cannot but wonder if it was not for political distraction with #Brexit would this situation be tolerated."

Six years ago, the Irish News revealed that pensioner Thomas (Tim) Quinn died after he had waited on an A&E trolley in the Royal for 22 hours.

There was a public outcry when it emerged that ambulance staff, who were due to transport Mr Quinn to the City hospital, found him dead in an overstretched casualty department.

Latest figures show that A&E delays are continuing - with a record 2,372 breaches of the 12-hour target in December 2017, triple the figure on the same month the previous year.

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