Calls to reopen emergency departments in the Mid-West

Melanie Cleary holding a photo of her daughter Eve Cleary (Image: Limerick Leader)

By Oisín White and Thomas Lawrence

The recent death of a 16-year girl at University Hospital Limerick has led to increased calls for the reopening of emergency departments in the mid-west region.  

Expressing their condolences to the family of the young girl, the Mid-West Hospital Campaign group called on the Minister for Health to intervene.  

“We are appealing to Minister Stephen Donnelly to intervene and reopen the emergency departments in the mid-west region to try to prevent this from happening again,” they said in a statement.  

It’s understood the teenager was admitted to UHL with a respiratory complaint.  

Meanwhile, Melanie Sheehan Cleary, who recently settled a High Court action with the HSE following the death of her daughter Eve Cleary in 2019, told Limerick Voice: “I think at times that maybe if Eve was saved, none of this would have happened afterwards.”  

The 21-year-old from Corbally, Limerick, died in the early hours of July 21, 2019, two days after she fell and hurt her leg, and just hours after being discharged from UHL.  

Eve Cleary went to the A&E department of the Limerick hospital where she spent 17 hours on a trolley and died over three hours after she had been discharged from the hospital and told to go home and rest.  

The late Eve Cleary (Image: Limerick Leader)

As part of the settlement the HSE and the hospital in a statement to the High Court expressed “sincere condolences and deep regret” on the “untimely death” of Eve. The High Court heard that the settlement is without an admission of liability.  

Speaking to Limerick Voice following the death of a 16-year-old girl in UHL on January 29 last, Ms Sheehan Cleary claims management at UHL has not listened to concerns raised following Eve’s death.  

Recalling the “horrendous” conditions her daughter was subjected to in her final hours, the grieving mother said:  

“There were trolleys everywhere. The smell of urine when she was there was horrific. Eve was there hours at a time without anyone coming to check on her, without even a cup of tea, without a blanket, under these bright lights.    

“Even for us now, knowing that was her last day, is horrific because she wasn’t comfortable. She was very, very unwell.” 

An internal inquiry launched by the hospital group into the recent death is the second such investigation instigated in just over a year following the death of 16-year-old Aoife Johnston from meningitis at UHL in December 2022.  

A statement issued by the HSE expressed concern that “some current commentary in relation to tragic outcomes at University Hospital Limerick is putting forward inappropriate conclusions about some of these cases and could affect the confidence of people in attending the hospital”. 

While stressing that their first thoughts in relation to patient deaths were with those affected, the HSE statement continued: “We always address legitimate concern and questions and have done so recently in the Mid-West.  However, not every tragic outcome for a family in Limerick means there has been a failure in the service … each case is looked at in its own right.  Two cases are rarely the same. Similarities such as patient age, for example, do not suggest the cases are the same.” 

In relation to the recent deaths at UHL, the HSE asked that commentators “not jump to conclusions” and “respect the dignity of those who have died, the privacy of their grieving families and the dedication of our staff who come to work each day in the spirit of professionalism and care”. It added: “We have excellent front-line staff across our services, including Limerick.” 

According to HSE CEO Bernard Gloster: “We have robust mechanisms for inquiring into unexpected deaths, unexplained poor outcomes and complaints, and we use them very regularly. In Limerick, as with all our hospitals and services, we have an Incident Framework. When examining a concerning outcome we do not start from a conclusion. We assess the evidence, and then draw conclusions. The primary aim is first to establish what happened and how, and then to take any appropriate actions.  Most such reviews, no matter what the outcome, give us the opportunity to learn how to improve for other patients and service users. I have mandated a questioning environment in the interests of patient safety which I believe our staff accept as the norm.” 

Mr Gloster said an independent report into Ms Johnston’s death by former Chief Justice Frank Clarke will not be ready for several more weeks. 

Mr Gloster went on to say that the recent tragic passing of a 16-year-old girl in UHL has been subject of a preliminary assessment, and that hospital management would soon decide which level of review may follow.  

Mr Gloster hopes that expanding some services in surrounding hospitals will help reduce overcrowding in UHL: “We are going to expand the acute medical assessment units in Nenagh and St John’s to a 24-hour system.   

“We are also starting, hopefully, in the next three to four weeks, a new GP streaming service at the emergency department.”   

Conor Sheehan, a Labour member of Limerick City and County Council, has stated that he has “no confidence in the Government” or the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly over their handling of the UHL overcrowding crisis which has rendered the hospital, in his view, “unfit for purpose”.   

The source of these problems, he claims, is the “completely failed” reconfiguration model that saw the closure of the emergency departments at Nenagh and St John’s hospitals.   

The councillor, whose grandfather recently spent approximately 100 hours on a trolley, criticised UHL for the lack of progress in recent years: “We know a HIQA report in 2023 found the A&E to be inhumane. I believe nothing has changed since that HIQA report was done in the first half of last year.”   

According to UL Hospitals Group, the addition of several new beds will help alleviate pressures that lead to overcrowding. A new 96-bed block is due to be in operation for UHL next year, with a second block due to be complete in 2027. A third block in the 2030s is expected to alleviate issues of overcrowding.  

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