People urged to ‘join forces’ and protest UHL after death of teenager Aoife Johnston

People from Limerick and beyond are set to protest University Hospital Limerick (UHL) after the tragic and “needless” death of a 16 year-old girl who waited up to 16 hours to be seen at the hospital’s A&E. The protest seeks to highlight the waiting times at the hospital, and call for the reopening of the three Accident and Emergency Departments at nearby Ennis, Nenagh, and St. John’s.

Aoife Johnston died on December 19th after she visited the emergency department at UHL after feeling unwell. The “beautiful and kind” teenager from Clare was eventually seen and prescribed antibiotics, but died from bacterial meningitis after waiting for hours to be seen by staff at the overcrowded hospital. Her death has sparked outcry from people across Ireland, resulting in plans to protest the running of the beleaguered hospital.

Mike Daly, organiser of the protest, said people from across Limerick now need to join forces and protest in their thousands after Aoife’s death. Mr Daly told Gript that the popular teenager’s tragic death was a tragedy which was unfortunately an inevitability “sooner rather than later” as chaos continues at the hospital. Just weeks after Ms Johnston’s death, a “major internal incident” was declared at UHL as staff continued to struggle to cope with overcrowding.

“For weeks now we have seen record levels of patients on trolleys in University Hospital Limerick. Many elderly patients have suffered enormously on these trolleys with no dignity, compassion or proper care,” he said, adding:

“People are literally dying in our hospitals on trolleys waiting to be seen. UHL Management have stood over this and ought to step down and resign because it’s clear that they cannot manage the problem they have created.

“UHL Hospital Management were well aware of the tsunami that was coming their way yet they put nothing in place to alleviate this suffering”.

Mr Daly told Gript that the problems now seen at his local hospital date back to 2009 when direct emergency access at surrounding areas Ennis, Nenagh, and St John’s Hospital in Limerick City, were withdrawn and patients were instead directed to UHL.

The Limerick local pointed to others who have said the reconfiguration made in 2009 has had a disastrous impact. He referred to the comments of top consultant at UHL, Prof Declan Lyons, who told RTE’s Morning Ireland this month that the problem dates back to 2009 when the medical reconfiguration was made – describing it as “a very significant mistake”.

Speaking to Morning Ireland this month, consultant at the hospital, Prof Declan Lyons, said that staff and patients are dealing with “inhumane and dangerous” conditions. The consultant told the programme that trolleys are being “crammed together” with hardly enough space between one trolley and the next for staff to treat patients.

Mr Daly said: “The closure of three A&E’s all at once was never going to work, and while huge concerns were raised, no one listened. It took a few years for things to turn disastrous, and it has now culminated in the death of this young girl. At the end of the day, a death because of a waiting time is not acceptable even in a third world country. It’s absolutely incredible to see this in Ireland”.

“Since 2009, the people of Limerick and surrounding counties have been calling for them to be reopened. Healthcare in Limerick and the Mid West have been forgotten about by the bigwigs in Dublin who do not care about the suffering of people lying on trolleys in UHL”.

Mr Daly added that due to mounting pressure from local activist groups including the MidWest Hospital Campaign, along with the threat of demonstration, some small plans have now been put into place involving two local hospitals in Ennis and St John’s. The plans will mean that patients from Co Clare and the surrounding Limerick region will be able to go to their local hospitals “without languishing on a trolley for days in UHL”.

Mr Daly, whose campaign has over 4,000 followers on Facebook, said his own daughter attended the UHL accident and emergency department recently, and had a 13 hour wait to be seen. While she had a fever, assessment showed there was nothing more sinister going on, and thankfully she was fine and was able to return home. However, he says he understands anyone could lose their life owing to long waiting times at the hospital.

Mr Daly himself has been dealing with an incident involving a family member’s care at UHL for the past 13 years, with an inquest set to reopen into the 2010 death in March 2023.

Mr Daly said: “We must force the government to reopen St. John’s hospital and appoint more doctors to A&E in UHL, and reopen Ennis & Nenagh A&Es also”.

“The whole of Limerick needs to join forces and protest in their thousands through the town and at UHL for the needless death of that young girl. We cannot sit back and accept this”.

The protest has been organised for Saturday 21st January. It is set to begin at 11am, starting at Old Courthouse and marching through Limerick city centre via O’Connell Street and Henry Street. The protest originally planned to march to University Hospital Limerick, but for the sake of patient safety, will not end up at UHL.

Mr Daly told Gript that despite the change, he hopes that the demonstration will “bring the city to a standstill,” adding that it should not matter that protestors do not bring the demonstration directly to UHL. There will be no political speakers, and political party banners and flags will not be allowed during what has been dubbed the ‘People’s Protest’.

Mr Daly hopes thousands will be in attendance, and is already aware of people planning to travel from as far afield as counties Kerry and Clare for the protest.

Mr Daly believes the Government will continue to “do nothing” until the people say “enough” in the wake of the death of a child who did not receive treatment on time.

“The whole of Limerick has a moral obligation” to take action, because nobody will act in their place”, he added.

Urging the public to get involved, the Limerick man said: “Let’s organise the biggest protest Limerick has ever seen and we get that hospital back working effectively”.

“We are calling on everyone in Limerick to join us on the 21st, to send a message loud and clear to Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party that we will not tolerate being treated as second class citizens anymore. Enough is enough and the time for action is now”.

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