10 readers on the Irish health service: patients, patience and complacence

‘The Irish Times’ asked readers about their experiences of the Irish health service


The Irish health service is no stranger to criticism, most recently after an investigation into Ireland’s cervical cancer screening programme concluded there was “a whole-system failure”. In the days following publication of scoping investigation by Dr Gabriel Scally, The Irish Times asked readers about their experiences of the health service in Ireland.

Here are 10 submissions by readers.

1) Shocked at the arrogance

“Having lived for 32 years away from Ireland, I returned three years ago. I was, and still am, shocked at the cost of healthcare here, but more so at the arrogance of many doctors and consultants who seem to believe patients have no right to an opinion. Last April I decided to change my doctor to a female one, who was recommended by an acquaintance. However, my records still have not been sent by my old GP. I have called the old practice four times now and still nothing. An example of neglectful, and potentially dangerous, behaviour.

2) Nothing was too much trouble

“During the summer I took my husband to the hospital emergency department at 8pm because he was feeling ill. We were triaged by 8.15, he was put on a trolley and monitored closely by a nurse on a 15-minute basis. He was seen by the attending doctor, who conferred with A&E consultant. Just after midnight, my husband’s blood pressure dropped significantly and the consultant grabbed the bed and pulled my husband into the resuscitation area. He worked on him to keep him alive all night and following morning. The A&E was really busy and they were short of staff and chairs for patients and relatives. I didn’t see any doctor or nurse or porter take a break all night in very intense circumstances. They stabilised my husband, got a bed, and moved him to a ward where he received wonderful care until he recovered. They wrote to our GP and advised him of the care he would need. The care was wonderful - the staff doctors, nurses and catering and cleaning staff were wonderful. Everything was explained and nothing was too much trouble. The wheels on the trolleys didn’t turn very well, the taps on the sinks were loose, as were the toilet seats, so maybe maintenance need to do a better job. Overall, we can’t praise the staff enough. They definitely saved my husband that night. Simply wonderful.”

3) I have been literally forgotten in corridors

“Just before I turned 30, my sporadic joint pain became chronic. As I discussed options with my GP, we started by investigating arthritis as a cause. This meant a referral to a rheumatologist, who took one look at me and said “Fibromyalgia”. That was 11 years ago, and I can no longer walk and can’t stand without crutches. I’m awaiting spinal surgery, but that first diagnosis of Fibro has dogged me. I have friends with psoriatic arthritis, spinal fractures and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, all of whom were told as some point that they had Fibromyalgia. What we have in common is that we were all women in our 20s when we received these diagnoses. For me, it has meant a decade of continuous serious pain, stopping work and losing my mobility and independence. On the occasions when I convinced rheumatologists to refer me for MRIs or other tests, they always said: “We don’t expect it to show anything.” The last time this happened, it took the rheumatologist 18 months to bother to refer me to radiology, meaning I waited over two years. The scan showed a herniated disc in my spine that has probably caused irreversible nerve damage. I have been treated like a junkie when asking for an increase in my opioid pain medication. I have been literally forgotten in corridors because clinic waiting rooms had no space for my wheelchair. I have had the wrong part of my body scanned at times. I have spent two years waiting for an appointment - only to discover the consultant never got the original referral letter. I am now desperate to undergo spinal surgery because there’s an outside chance it might improve things a bit. I have also been told that my spinal injury should have been identified and treated within 4 weeks to avoid irreversible nerve damage. No one on the public system gets seen for anything diagnosed within four weeks, much less treated. That was my 30s. I can only hope my 40s will be a bit better.”

4) Reducing my fear of hospitals

“I had to attend hospital after badly burning my hand on a stove. I was in a lot of pain. I have never had to go to the hospital before and to say I was anxious is putting it lightly. I had horrible images of waiting for hours, dismissive admin staff, rude nurses. My experience was nothing like that. I waited for a normal amount of time, the admin staff were polite and helpful, if a little stressed looking. The nurses were wonderful - they completely soothed any worries that I had, bandaged me up. The consultant gave me a flying visit, but he answered every question I had. The care the nurses gave me was five-star and it really did a lot in reducing my fear of hospitals. I think front-line hospital staff have such a tough job. Of course there are bad apples, but I think the big majority are just trying to do their best. They are let down by managers and government/civil service officials who do not care about providing a decent health service.”

5) Looking at the incorrect X-ray

“I have so many stories, from finding three sheets of patient contact details lying on a table in a waiting room, to witnessing an older person get a pain-numbing injection in her leg because she supposedly had a broken hip, before the doctor discovered he been looking at the incorrect X-ray. I then observed staff being rude to the patient and trying to get the woman out of the A&E at 10.30pm.”

6) Shame on this Government

“While I am appalled at recent scandals, poor care, governance, lies and withholding information, I have to say the treatment I have received in two hospitals was excellent, and I do feel so sorry for the hard-working staff who are not getting the proper working environment and support they need to carry out their daily service. Shame on this Government, who have let down so many men, women and children in Ireland, while they fill their pockets with unreal salaries and expenses.”

7) I had to sit in the same waiting room

“When I was 28 I found a lump on my breast. The male GP said, ‘oh it’s probably because you should be breastfeeding at this stage’. I was single and not lucky enough to have kids and still don’t have. He could feel the lump and sent me to a consultant, who asked how I discovered it. I said it was because of the ads telling you to check when you are in the shower, so I did. He suggested I was obsessed about it. It turned out to be a cyst. Last year I discovered I was pregnant at 44. Myself and my boyfriend were overjoyed. The staff in hospital could not have been nicer, except for one man who was barking at women – some heavily pregnant. Two weeks later I miscarried and had to go back in and sit in the same waiting room with all the pregnant women, knowing that my baby was gone. Sobbing my heart out. It is not right to be losing your baby surrounded by happy pregnant women as I had been two weeks before. And it’s not right for the pregnant women. The nurses and doctors, though, could not have been nicer and for that I will always be grateful.”

8) It could have killed me

“I am a retired woman. I had been having severe pain in my stomach and was sent for chest X-rays. I also started having breathing problems. I was examined by three professors - one for lungs, one for thyroid and another for hernia. One told me I had a small hernia, another told me I had a large hernia. The third sent me home, saying all that was wrong with me was my age and weight. My daughter asked a general surgeon to examine me. I was shocked. He told me my stomach had torn a hole in my diaphragm and was up beside my lungs. It could have killed me at any minute. I needed emergency surgery. I was very lucky, but this asks the question of the wrong diagnosis. Would it ever have been discovered if I had died? I think people are being put at risk by mistakes made in hospitals in Ireland.”

9) Refocus our health service provision

“This is about an elderly woman in her 80s who suffers from psychosis, which includes leaving the house and nutrition. Dehydration happens. The GP is called, but says it will be hours before a visit is possible. All she needs is an iv saline drip. The family are told to bring her to A&E, but she refuses to leave the house. Finally, she relents, but is left in a wheelchair in A&E for eight hours. Staff, who are run off their feet, show little sympathy as she is effectively a “space blocker”. This is not untrue - if a non-medical qualified person could administer a drip it wouldn’t even take a nurse. Non-medical/nursing people have, after many years of in-fighting in nursing and clinical circles, progressed to administering prescribed medication. We need to refocus our health service provision to ensure that those who need the care get the care, rather that those who are medically/clinically qualified retaining such controls as to render healthcare exclusive to the point of making the patient wait. Such control leaves vulnerable people fearful of being a blocker, time-waster, being ignored, not sick enough and diminished as a human being - often those who get sick more often are the elderly, low income earners, those who have become unemployed through the “down-turn”, those with poor housing or who are homeless; so many who have tightened their belts and paid their taxes and build the country all their lives for such treatment. It is a shameful society - not flexible, responsive, learning, inclusive. Absolutely no joining the dots.”

10) Started so I’ll finish

“I had a slow growing lump in my neck. I have health insurance, so went privately to a consultant and had an MRI. The consultant’s secretary contacted me and told me lump doesn’t need to be removed. Three months later, I got a call from the consultant saying ‘your paperwork was filed incorrectly and the lump needs to be removed ASAP’. I go to the hospital, but there’s no bed available. I live nearby, so I tell them I can go home and come back following morning. Administrator is delighted and says they need to get the MRI DVD from the consultant as it’s not in the file. I tell her I have a copy and I can bring in with me tomorrow. I am back the next morning with the DVD.

I’m prepped for the operation, then I’m left sitting on the bed in the theatre because the consultant’s secretary still hasn’t sent over the full file. Finally, the operation happens and the lump is removed. I found the consultant rude when I asked about the procedure the following morning. Hospital nurses were great. I return a week later for a follow-up, and am brought into treatment room. Someone comes in and starts removing the stitches. Someone else comes in and says the stitches shouldn’t be removed until the consultant “has seen her”. The response is: “I’ve started so I’ll finish”. Consultant comes in. My file can’t be found. He asks me what procedure did I have and what was the operation for.”

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