As the Johnston’s await the outcome of an investigation into 16-year-old Aoife’s tragic death, families of other UHL victims share their stories with Ellen Cornelius
Three months on from the tragic death of 16-year-old Aoife Johnston at University Hospital Limerick, it is still not known when the investigation into her death will be concluded, Limerick Voice can reveal.
The much-loved teenager is reported to have spent up to 16 hours on a trolley in the Emergency Department of UHL, before she passed away.
A Serious Incident Management Team was established earlier this year, to determine whether the teenager’s death was preventable or not.
When contacted about the progress of the investigation, which commenced in January and was expected to take three months, a HSE spokesperson told Limerick Voice it had “no date for the receipt of a report”.
“A review team has been put in place in relation to the case, and the investigation is ongoing,” the spokesperson stated.
“On conclusion of the investigation, the review team will share its report with the patient’s family. UL Hospitals Group does not plan to publish this report,” the spokesperson added.
When contacted by Limerick Voice about the investigation, a member of the Johnston family said they did not wish to make any comment.
Speaking days after Aoife’s tragic death at UHL on December 19th last, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted the investigation would be carried out thoroughly and as quickly as possible. This he stated is what the Johnston family “expects, and that’s what they have a right to expect”.
Families within the Mid-West Hospital Campaign, who have also lost loved ones at UHL, are calling for increased transparency around investigation processes.
Melanie Sheehan, whose 21-year-old daughter Eve Cleary died shortly after being discharged from UHL in 2019, said: “When we met the Taoiseach, I asked for each case to get an independent investigation and that’s what I’m trying to push for now for her.
“We never had an investigation into Eve’s death, we’ve only ever had a review, so I’d love to see transparency and accountability.”
She added, “There’s no point in having an investigation and not making it available to the public because then they’re just going to put it away in some file.”
Conor Reidy, whose father Johnny Reidy died after being moved between several Mid-West Hospitals in the weeks before his death in 2018, also believes investigations needs to be made public: “Once families and those bereaved have been fully informed of investigation results and they are satisfied with the information, then investigations need to be published.”
Ms Johnston’s death shocked the nation while those who have been campaigning for more resources at UHL know all too well the feeling of losing a loved one to the overstretched Mid-West hospital.
Johnny Reidy of Nenagh, Co. Tipperary was 89 years old when, during a respite at St Conlon’s Community Nursing Unit, he suffered a stroke.
He was transported by ambulance to UHL, where he spent two nights on a trolley waiting to be seen.
His son Conor Reidy stressed: “I’ve never been a campaigner. I was never on a protest in my life until the Mid-West Hospital Campaign was founded.”
Conor described the conditions his father encountered at UHL as “absolutely appalling”.
“He was in a narrow corridor. The trolleys were toe to toe. There was no standing space for loved ones to get past or to stand there with your loved one. The toilet was a fantasy – you just didn’t get to go to the toilet.”
“It’s not that the staff were purposely neglecting you, it was that they were so overstretched.”
Following his admittance to UHL on July 5, 2018, Mr Reidy was transferred back to Nenagh Hospital in early August to receive further care.
He was then transferred on August 27 to St. Conlon’s nursing home, where he had originally been receiving respite. It was upon his arrival there that staff discovered he had been discharged from Nenagh Hospital with pneumonia.
Mr Reidy’s family and GP then attempted to have him readmitted to Nenagh Hospital, as it was only a short distance away, but due to HSE protocol the staff there advised them that Mr Reidy would have to go by ambulance to UHL to re-enter the system.
Conor said, “Even though his bed was still warm, they were forced to refuse him. The ambulance paramedics and the staff at the nursing home were unsure if he’d make the journey to Limerick, that’s how bad things were.
After a week at UHL Mr Reidy was once again transferred to Nenagh Hospital where palliative care began, and in the early hours of September 12 his life ended.
Of his father’s death, Conor stated, “The only thing we can be thankful for is that he didn’t die on a UHL trolley.
“I don’t have the capacity to forgive what the HSE did to my father. I can’t forgive the HSE, and I can’t forgive this country.”
Melanie Sheehan, whose daughter Eve Cleary died at UHL aged just 21, is also a member of the Mid-West Hospital Campaign Group.
On July 19, 2019, Ms Cleary, of Corbally was due to meet her parents at the Potato Market in Limerick City, but as she was crossing Matthew Bridge she fell and injured herself.
Her mother Ms Sheehan said,“She didn’t want to go to hospital because she didn’t have a medical card, but we convinced her to go because we could see her leg swelling. She went to UHL at around 10pm that evening.”
“We got out there at 8am the following day, and Eve was in a corridor with trolleys either side so you couldn’t really walk between them. It stunk of urine and Eve told me that another patient had urinated in the sink that was very near her trolley.”
“She had no pillow or blanket, so I went to try and find one but they told me they didn’t really have any, so I took my own cardigan off and put it behind her head and we put a hoodie around her.”
“When she was admitted, we were still asking, ‘what’s wrong with her’, you know? They said the orthopaedic team would be back that evening, but when the nurses did book her in that afternoon her file was empty, so they didn’t know why she was there. And Eve didn’t know why she was there.”
At around 5pm on July 20, Ms Cleary was given an anti-inflammatory and was sent home, after her scans and X-rays were deemed clear by a doctor that evening.
“Shortly after 11pm, Eve’s boyfriend screamed my name and I went up the stairs, and when I turned her lovely face towards me, she was so grey. Her lips were blue and there was a bead of sweat on her forehead,” Ms Sheehan recalled.
Ms Cleary’s father Barry then called an ambulance.
“She had her first cardiac arrest there on the stairs. I took the phone while Barry started CPR and he managed to bring her back.”
“After the paramedics began working on her daughter, Melanie says, “I knelt in front of her and I said ‘Eve, don’t do this to me’. I told her I would switch places with her, and she said ‘Mam I am so sorry’.
“Then she had her second cardiac arrest, and she was never conscious again. We found out afterwards that she had DVT. A clot in her calf had gone to her pancreas, her lungs and her heart.”
In remembering Eve, Ms Sheehan said her daughter was “good and kind”.
Thomas Wynne, a 65-year-old man from Co. Clare, spent 36 hours on a trolley in the corridors of UHL before his death in 2018.
His wife of 40 years, Marie McMahon recalled that “the emergency department was chronically understaffed. Staff were non-existent and there was line upon line of trolleys. No privacy, no respect.”
After returning home for a few hours, Marie woke up to a missed call from UHL.
“They said on the phone that he died in resuscitation, but something didn’t sit right with me because I had been aware of the conditions there. So just for my own peace of mind, my daughter and I asked to see Tommy’s file and the truth was that he was found dead on the trolley.”
“Obviously we had to come to terms with that, but also for the people around him who must have been aware of what was happening, that must have been horrific.”
Speaking more broadly, Ms McMahon said, “We have one emergency department for over 400,000 people based on the 2016 census. Yet you can go across to Leo Varadkar’s constituency and have one for every 180,000 people.”
Referencing the new Bon Secours centre under construction in Castletroy, she noted, “A new private hospital is not much good to one of the poorest regions of the country, and with an ageing population and the cost-of-living, a lot of people cannot afford private healthcare.”
Speaking about her late husband, Marie said, “Tommy would want me to do this because he was always somebody who hated inequality, he always fought against injustice, and he always passionately believed in doing the right thing.
“He keeps me going every day.”
Find out more about the Mid West Hospitals Campaign.