Image Credit: Melanie Sheehan Cleary

‘We need accountability’: Mother of 21-year-old Eve Cleary speaks out as UHL protest takes place

The mother of 21-year-old Eve Cleary, who died after waiting 17 hours to be seen at an overcrowded University Hospital Limerick (UHL) in 2019 has told Gript that Irish families deserve accountability from our Government Ministers and HSE. 

Melanie Sheehan Cleary was one of the keynote speakers to address a crowd of up to 11,000 people at a protest in Limerick City today. The protest, described as “the biggest health protest Limerick has seen” heard calls for action from politicians and the HSE over long waiting times and overcrowding.  

Today’s protest marks exactly three and a half years since the death of 21-year-old Eve, who waited 17 hours to be seen at UHL in 2019 – which has come to notoriety as Ireland’s most overcrowded hospital. Just hours before, the young woman had been discharged with blood clots.

At an October 2021 inquest into Eve’s death, a coroner made a recommendation that HSE guidelines around assessing patients for risk of blood clots, particularly deep vein thrombosis, be followed by staff at UHL “as much as they can” after Eve died from blood clots in her lungs just hours after being discharged.

The inquest heard how Eve, from Corbally, Limerick, died in the early hours of 21 July 2019 after presenting at UHL while suffering cardiac arrest and with a swollen leg. She had presented at UHL two days beforehand, on 19 July, suffering from a swollen right leg after she suffered a fall in Limerick City. 

Eve spent 17 hours on a trolley in the ED with only a hoodie for a blanket. The inquest heard how her trolley was one of dozens “cramped together” in a corridor of the ED, on a day where the number of patients waiting for beds reached record numbers. 

A verdict of medical misadventure was recorded at Eve’s inquest.

Image Credit: Family Photo

The protest comes in the wake of the tragic death of a 16-year-old girl who passed away from bacterial meningitis after waiting up to 16 hours to be treated at UHL. Organisers told us that the tragic death just before Christmas was the catalyst for organising the protest which took place this afternoon.

Speaking to Gript shortly before Saturday’s protest, Eve Cleary’s mother Melanie said that while she is aware staff are under immense pressure, she believes the length of time her daughter had to wait at UHL contributed to her “needless” death.

Ms Sheehan Cleary, said that she was participating in the campaign as part of her daughter’s legacy, with the family determined to use their voices to bring about change, and to save other family’s from similar heartache. 

She told Gript she feels that nothing has changed at UHL since Eve’s death in 2019, and she is now calling for an independent investigation to take place into the circumstances which resulted in her daughter’s passing. It comes following Ms Sheehan Cleary launching civil proceedings against the HSE, with a hearing date yet to be set.

“We protested back in February 2020,” she said, adding: “But nothing has really changed since”.

“Unfortunately, still nothing’s moving. Instead of turning away from this, I want to do something to try and fix this,” she said.

Pushing for accountability, she said families will struggle to see justice if incidents are dealt with internally:

“So for me, the question is: how are families ever going to get accountability if it’s being dealt with internally? In my eyes, it’s clear these deaths are happening because the three surrounding A&Es are shut”.

She added she was hopeful that long-running calls from families such as hers to reopen surrounding A&Es, which were closed as part of a reconfiguration in 2009, have now been backed by politicians, with more people starting to speak out.

Asked if she has faith in Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, she told us:

“In our own case, I’ve contacted the previous Minister for Health – my first time contacting him was in August 2019. Yet, I’ve never gotten a solid reply. Eve has only ever had an internal review into her death – so the 17 hours that Eve spent in those horrendous conditions were never covered as part of the review. They were left out.

Eve (L) with mother Melanie (Image Credit: Melanie Sheehan Cleary)

Recalling the night Eve died, Melanie continued: “That night, it was a Friday night, and we had nowhere to take Eve. Nowhere else, only UHL”. Ms Sheehan has previously spoken of the terrible conditions seen by the family on the night Eve died 

Eve’s daughter’s trolley was located next to a sink which had been used as a toilet by another patient, with the smell of urine palpable.

Asked what change Eve’s family, from Limerick City, want to see as part of Eve’s legacy, Melanie said:

“For us, the whole key is alleviating waiting times, opening our three A&Es, and fixing the trolley crisis. One person on a trolley is too many.

“People shouldn’t be in those conditions. We have our government talking about a ‘winter plan’ – but it isn’t a winter problem. This has been going on for years now. It’s been going on since 2009. The day Eve was there [in 2019] they broke a record for trolley figures”.

Asked if she is hopeful the public action will bring about change, she said:

“They are now directing patients to Nenagh and Ennis, and St John’s are using more beds as well. So they do know that this is a way to solve it – and the money is there to solve this crisis, but there is just such a slowness to come out and say clearly ‘this is the solution’. We need these three A&Es because our population has grown. But action needs to come quicker”.

Sending a message to the Health Minister and the HSE management, the mother said:

“In terms of a message, I would say to them, in cases like my daughter’s, there needs to be accountability. There needs to be a reaction for their actions, and Eve, clearly, by her story, was really let down. I’ve read a lot of comments online with people urging others to speak up for themselves, and that people need to ask questions – but Eve did all that.

“Eve asked the questions, Eve asked staff that day ‘are you sure?’ because she didn’t feel well. Eve questioned everything, and as a family, this was still our conclusion.

“On Saturday, it is exactly three years and six months since Eve is gone. But we will continue to speak out as her family so that this never happens to anyone else.

“The reason we decided to speak out was so that the government will actually listen to us. Not one politician in Limerick is actually directly addressing this, and stating that those three a&es need to be reopened,” she said.

Today’s protest called for plans to be put in place immediately to reopen all three accident and emergency departments in Ennis, Nenagh and St. John’s to relieve pressure at UHL. The huge public demonstration comes as Emergency Departments across the country and at UHL witnessed record trolley figures this month.

Organiser of the protest, Mike Daly, said he was left “speechless” by the support and turnout, as he told attendees they should be “proud” of themselves for supporting the campaign in person.

On behalf of protestors, he urged Irish politicians to come out and publicly call for the reopening of A&Es. Unless they actively work towards that goal, there “will be no votes for you in the next election,” he said in a direct message to elected representatives in Limerick and beyond.

“It’s not enough to talk about beds, it’s not enough to talk about the poor management […] the time for talking is over, and the time for action is now”.

In a message to politicians and HSE management following the protest, he said: “They should know when to concede, and after [seeing] the thousands there today, should immediately put plans in place to reopen all three A&Es”.

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