A mother whose daughter died on a trolley at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) will address a protest to highlight conditions at UHL this Saturday.
Melanie Sheenan’s daughter, Eve Cleary, then aged 21, died at UHL – which has come to notoriety as Ireland’s most overcrowded hospital – on 21 July 2019. Just hours before, the young woman had been discharged with blood clots.
Ms Sheehan is set to speak at a protest organised for this Saturday 21 January, taking place in Limerick, to highlight conditions at UHL, which has been described as a “national basket case” in recent weeks. The protest also seeks to highlight the lack of emergency health services for the Midwest region, a situation which has resulted in severe overcrowding and persistently long waiting times at the hospital.
Ms Sheenan has added her voice to calls for change at the hospital, highlighting the tragedy of her daughter’s “needless death”. Speaking to the Irish Sunday Mirror, she said Eve’s death three and a half years ago was “preventable” – as she challenged the narrative that the situation seen at the hospital in recent months was merely a “winter problem”.
“There is a lot of anger and people are sick of it,” she told the paper. “Eve’s death was so preventable. I believe this Government have blood on their hands”.
Continuing, she said: “The Government is trying to say it is a winter problem, but we all know that by closing three A&Es in 2009 this is the result”.
Others, including UHL consultant Prof Declan Lyons, have highlighted the negative impact of the reconfiguration of 2009. Prof Lyons, who has been a doctor at UHL for 25 years, told RTE Radio’s Morning Ireland at the start of January that the reconfiguration was “a very significant mistake”.
The decision meant that direct emergency access at Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s hospital were withdrawn, with patients instead directed to UHL.
Ms Sheehan recalled the nightmare her family entered into when attending the hospital’s emergency department in 2019.
“Eve spent 17 hours on a trolley in UHL in horrendous conditions,” she said. “Nothing will bring her back but I hoped lessons would be learnt from her death. But nothing has changed.”
Her comments coincide with tragedy at the hospital in recent weeks after a young girl, aged just 16, died in December after waiting up to 16 hours on a trolley to be treated. The much-loved schoolgirl had been classified as a non-priority patient, with her condition not regarded as life-threatening at the time. Despite pleas from her desperate family for her to be given antibiotics, she was not given antibiotics promptly enough and died from bacterial meningitis.
Following the death, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed confirmation from the UL Hospital Group that an inquiry into her death, chaired externally, will now take place.
Another man, a health worker from UHL, told the Irish media that his father died weeks after waiting up to 14 hours for a ward bed. Julian Naughton’s dad Patrick (86) died in August. Mr Naughton told The Independent that he frequently sees elderly people crying out for help, but that the A&E remains like a “cattle market” despite its notoriety.
Meanwhile, Ms Sheehan says she has launched civil proceedings against the HSE, with a hearing date yet to be set.
The action comes in the wake of a major incident being declared at UHL earlier this month, with the hospital seeing record trolley numbers, and becoming overwhelmed by the number of patients.
Management at the hospital have said that several hundred extra beds are required, with campaigners calling for the return of 24-hour emergency departments to district hospitals.
Ms Sheehan spoke of her upset on hearing of the death of teenager Aoife Johnston at the same hospital, adding that she shares the pain of other grieving families.
“I was horrified to hear it [Aoife’s death]. I know what her family are going through,” she said.
“For us it will be four years [this year] since Eve died. It’s something that literally still takes my breath away. I spend every day wishing she was still here. Would she be married? Would she have a child?” she told the paper.
Eve’s inquest took place in 2021, where a verdict of medical misadventure was recorded. The inquiry heard the 21-year-old died at UHL after being rushed there by ambulance just hours after being discharged from the hospital.
She had first presented at UHL two days beforehand on 19 July 2021, suffering from a swollen leg as well as risk factors for thrombosis and a family history of blood clots. After spending 17 hours on a trolley before getting a bed on a ward, Eve’s patient file was lost and nurses could not ascertain why she had been admitted.
The inquest heard how UHL was operating with very few staff on a day where overcrowding reached record levels. Eve was discharged from UHL with suspected soft tissue damage but had a cardiac arrest four hours later while at home.
“My last memory of my child is telling her I loved her and her saying, ‘I’m sorry’.
“Eve fell, she went for help, she didn’t get it,” she said as she called for change ahead of Saturday’s protest.
Recalling “war zone” like scenes at UHL hours before Eve’s death, she said:
“It was trolleys on both sides of the corridor, you had to squeeze to get through to her. It was back-to-back like a train carriage, their knees were bent, there wasn’t even room to lie down properly”.
“Eve was really really cold. I had my cardigan off as a pillow for her, there wasn’t even a pillow. This was 12 hours before her death […] The smell of urine in the corridor took your breath away. It was vile, it was like a war zone. The conditions were third world.”
“Maybe if we could have taken Eve somewhere else, she could still be here today,” she said.
The mother added that her children fear something “is going to happen to them by the time they are 21”.
“It terrifies me if they get sick and an ambulance is called, we would have to bypass Limerick and go to Galway,” she said. “I would not bring them to UHL”.
“My last memory of my child is telling her I loved her and her saying, ‘I’m sorry’. “Eve fell, she went for help, she didn’t get it,” an emotional Ms Sheehan recalled ahead of Saturday’s protest.
She says the protest, which will start at 11am on Saturday and will march through Limerick city (so as not to cause distress to staff or patients at UHL) is part of a campaign which “is part of Eve’s legacy”.