Hospitals breaching human rights of the elderly, GP says

Dr Mary Rogan says inadequate staffing levels are impacting on older patients

A north Galway GP has said that the human rights of the elderly are being breached on a regular basis due to inadequate staffing levels in public hospitals.

Dr Mary Rogan, who runs a large practice in Annaghdown, Co Galway, said that she was aware of many cases where elderly people sent to hospital for treatment were fitted with nappies because there were insufficient nursing staff or carers to escort them to the toilet.

“This results in these patients developing incontinence, because of this practice,” Dr Rogan said.

“Incontinence is a feature of getting old, but many people who have successfully maintained continence find themselves being fitted with nappies after they are admitted and given a chair or trolley in an emergency department.


“Overdependence on nappies then results in them losing the ability to keep control.”

Dr Rogan said that this was an infringement of the rights of the elderly. She said that she also knew of cases where elderly people were placed on trolleys in inaccessible parts of hospitals.

She said that she believed the recent Corbally judgment had implications for hospital administrators, in highlighting how an administrative error led to an incorrect medical procedure.

In November 2013, consultant paediatrician Prof Martin Corbally won High Court orders overturning a finding of poor professional performance made against him after an incorrect procedure was carried out on a young patient of his by another doctor due to a systems failure.

“Medical staff can’t keep taking the blame for situations which may arise where administrators have not been allocating adequate funds for staffing or not opening sufficient beds,” Dr Rogan said.

Pressure on hospitals

Dr Rogan said that she and other GPs in the west were being told repeatedly not to send elderly patients to emergency departments, due to pressure on the hospitals.

Galway University Hospital’s emergency department reported delays today, due to the “significant number” of patients waiting to be seen.

“What do we do when someone cannot take fluids and has severe respiratory problems?” Dr Rogan said.

Dr Rogan also said that relatives should be given more scope to assist elderly patients. “Nurses just have too much paperwork to be able to do their job,” she said.

Elderly people with limited funds were having to opt for private hospitals, where there was a fee per item on top of admission charges, she said.

The Saolta hospital group in the west said that it was recruiting experienced general and paediatric nurses for all departments, and had established a “navigational hub” to check bed availability across the services, along with an early discharge programme.

It said that a “frail elderly project” was piloted in November 2014 with “positive outcomes”, and it had received approval to recruit more staff to develop it.

The group said that a patient advice and liaison officer had been appointed to assist patients in the emergency department. It had also submitted a proposal seeking funding for a replacement emergency department at University Hospital Galway due to its physical constraints.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times