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20 January 2000 Edition

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Minister's disgraceful neglect of the elderly

``She was old, frail, dying, frightened and totally conscious. She was left for three days on a trolley in casualty because there was no bed in a ward. She died six days later.''

Billy O'Halloran, from Cabra, is talking about the death of his mother, who died last summer, aged 87. ``It's constructive euthanasia, that's what Minister Cowan is doing. Elderly people should be treated with dignity and respect in their last days. Cowan doesn't allow them either. My mother should have been in intensive care. But there was no room.''

Billy's mother took very sick on a Friday night last July. She went to the Mater by ambulance. ``Her heart rate was up to 300, which would normally be around 90. She had taken a heart attack, or a stroke. We had just a square yard of space to ourselves. They ran out of trolleys and they put my mother in a wheelchair and wedged her in with a tray across her chest to hold up her frail body.

``It was not until Monday she got a hospital bed. The next day, she was moved to another ward, and the following day another ward, where she spent her last two days. It was like she didn't matter, she wasn't allowed dignity or respect. It was the worst experience I ever had in my life, to watch my mother endure all this over her last few days in this life.

``The nurses were wonderful. They did everything they could. But I blame Cowan, the so-called Minister of Health. The staff nurse told us that my mother couldn't get a bed earlier because they had closed wards down because of a shortage of nurses. He just doesn't care about the elderly people. There are no votes or money to be had there. My mother was just one of the many who are neglected altogether in our society. All the elderly people, unless they are very well off, are neglected.

It was only because of Nicky (local Sinn Féin Councillor Nicky Kehoe), who called up the Taoiseach's Office, that she got a bed in the end. But what sort of country is it, that you have to call the Taoiseach to get a bed in hospital when you are dying? There is so much money there and they are doing so little.''

``At the time in casualty there were another 16 people waiting on trolleys - imagine! My mother was beside a fellow in the DTs. shouting his head off. It was terrible conditions for your last few days.''

Nicky Kehoe says that ``since last summer, the Mater has been closing beds on a regular basis. It is entirely because they can't get enough nurses.'' Why not? ``Because Mr. Cowan, Minister of Health, won't pay enough. Shortage of staff makes working conditions intolerable for nurses who have too many patients to care for.

``They have brought over nurses from England, but the price of accommodation is so high here that they end up working in terrible conditions with long hours just to meet exorbitant rents for their accommodation. They can't afford to stay.

``It all comes back to the nurses' strike last year, and the outrageous way that McCreevy and Cowan handled it. After years of working and paying taxes, Cowan can't even ensure people have a hospital bed to die in.''

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