‘It was totally unsatisfactory to be left on a trolley for three days’

Son of 75-year-year old cancer patient complains about final days of his father at Waterford hospital

The son of a man with terminal cancer who spent three days on a trolley in the emergency department of University Hospital Waterford last month has spoken out about “the devastation he had to experience” only days before he died.

Michael Gallagher (75) presented at the emergency department of the hospital on December 1st, received an advanced cancer diagnosis on December 7th following a CT scan and died on December 17th.

His son, Liam Gallagher told RTÉ's Liveline about his father's experience of "the dire state" of emergency services at the hospital on Thursday. He has also written to Minister for Health Simon Harris to request that preventable risks around patient safety be addressed so that people like his father could avoid "undue suffering".

Liam Gallagher said when his father presented at the emergency department on Friday December 1st he was told the hospital could not perform an ultrasound over the weekend and he would have to wait until Monday. He was suffering with shortness of breath and a bloated abdomen.


He had to wait on a trolley in the corridor of the emergency department for three days until he was upgraded to a bed.

On December 6th, he was admitted to a medical ward.

Liam Gallagher said he understood his father’s cancer was terminal but the family feel if he had received a diagnosis when he had first presented himself to the emergency department, he would have access to symptom relief earlier which could have made his last few weeks less painful.

“I have to stress that once he was admitted into the oncology department he received fantastic care. We don’t have any issue with the quality of care from the medical staff,” he said.

“But it was totally unsatisfactory to be left on a trolley for three days. There were people in a similar, highly vulnerable position who were also waiting on trolleys.

“One of the main issues he had was not being able to sleep. The lights were on 24/7. It’s not a safe area. He received an enema on the corridor, which was totally undignified,” he said.

Not dignified

Liam said patients were helping other patients to go to the bathroom as staff at the hospital were so overstretched.

“His last days were not dignified. An elderly man, the first time to go into an emergency department ... the devastation he had to experience, he just couldn’t understand this was the case.”

He said the family are going public about their father’s case because they want to highlight how the system is inadequate.

He added that while the medical and nursing staff were excellent once his father was given a bed, “it is the intolerable nature of the emergency department that hit hardest. Nobody should have to experience repeated days in a corridor with no prospect of sleep, and an absence of dignity” .

In a statement, University Hospital Waterford confirmed that a regular radiographer led ultrasound service does not operate out of hours.

“However, based on the clinical need of a patient the radiology registrar on call will perform an ultrasound out of hours,” it said.