Northern Ireland news

'Disturbing' A&E experience and staff 'heroics' revealed by broadcaster Mark Sidebottom following five days in hospital

Sports commentator Mark Sidebottom spent five days in hospital after attending A&E at Halloween
Seanín Graham

A SPORTS broadcaster has revealed the "disturbing" scenes he witnessed in a Belfast A&E department - and how staff are afraid to speak publicly about a "dysfunctional" healthcare system.

Mark Sidebottom attended the Royal Victoria Hospital unit at Halloween after suffering an infection following surgery to his hand six weeks earlier.

Writing on journalist Eamonn Mallie's website, he detailed the devastating impact of severe short staffing and lack of investment in the frontline.

Unlike other parts of the NHS, the north's A&E departments have been experiencing severe pressures since July that have led health trusts to routinely appeal for off-duty staff to do shifts.

In some hospitals, two to three day trolley waits are becoming more common.

Mr Sidebottom spent five days in hospital - the first 17 hours were in A&E before he was admitted to a ward and then transferred to Musgrave Park hospital.

"Disturbing, distressing, dysfunctional...this is Belfast Royal Victoria Hospital accident and emergency department," he wrote.

“`The system is broken, broken beyond repair', a beleaguered doctor tells me, 'A&E is as much in need of urgent and radical surgery as any of those you see admitted here, at times it feels like we are beyond life support… lives are being put at risk'."

While sitting on the floor for more than three hours, he witnessed "utter chaos".

"On site, security flitted from one skirmish to another. Squabbles between a number of drunken and drug addled people in the waiting room bubbled up all evening and rumbled on throughout the night. Among their numbers at least three were having what in my limited experience was some sort of psychotic episode. PSNI officers arrived, escorting several people in handcuffs. A woman, off her head on something, approached me, `help me… help me' she shrieked… 'they’re trying to kill me'.

"I tried my best to ignore her, kept my head down, felt frightened, felt vulnerable and couldn’t help but admire how the staff performed their duties in such challenging circumstances."

The indignity of an elderly woman with a broken hip being forced to use a bed pan behind a thin curtain while five men sat nearby was also recounted.

Mr Sidebottom asked a nurse to go "on record" about the terrible conditions, adding that staff were performing "heroics".

She replied: "I can’t, I’d be frightened of the consequences… just tell your story, if you tell it, you also tell ours."

The nurse described how her colleagues were "leaving in their droves", adding:

"If it wasn’t for agency nurses the hospital wouldn’t function at all. I’ll go home later and cry myself to sleep. Please tell the public what’s going on, please."

Mr Sidebottom expressed his gratitude for those who looked after him, saying he is "so grateful to the NHS".

But he recalled the words of a ward sister, who described the pressures as "nothing to do with Covid-19".

"Tell them we’ve been sleep walking into this perfect storm for years… Covid has exacerbated it ok but NHS management needs to be called out on this..."

Belfast Trust declined to comment.

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