SOMEONE once said ‘the measure of any society is how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable citizens’.
Over the past 10 days or so the recent leaked memo sent by Dr James Gray has led me to cast my mind back to the night of March 1, 2011 when my father, a citizen of this country, was weak and vulnerable, yet was treated, in my opinion, poorly.
He eventually died while on a trolley in the Accident and Emergency Department of Tallaght Hospital, alone, without his family by his side.
At the inquest into his death, Dr Gray, amongst others, spoke about the care my father had received, how he had been admitted and left to sit on a chair for six hours before being transferred to a trolley on a ‘virtual ward’.
I remember texting my dad that night to tell him how his beloved Chelsea had beaten Manchester United.
In his short reply he acknowledged the result and confirmed that he was now on a trolley. “All good now, Si,” he said, “I have a grand trolley, chat tomorrow.”
What does it say about our hospitals when patients view being moved from a chair to a trolley on a corridor as an upgrade? Is that what it has to come to?
At the inquest we as a family were unprepared for what was to come. With only a brief explanation of how it would unfold, we went in without any questions, documentation or paperwork prepared.
Some of the doctors and nurses who were on duty that night described how my dad’s condition had deteriorated before he was pronounced dead at 4am on March 2 after several attempts to resuscitate him.
A huge amount of medical terminology was used, and we were left stunned as we tried to comprehend what was being said.
Of all those who spoke, the words from Dr James Gray, who gave an opinion statement at the inquest, impacted on us the most.
His honesty and conviction were all that brought us comfort, especially my mother who was left shell-shocked.
Giving his opinion, Dr Gray said there were “appallingly poor standards of sanitation” on the ‘virtual ward’, while there was “no isolation facility and poor infection control on the corridors”.
He also disclosed how he and his colleagues had complained about the conditions to the Human Rights Commission, the Health Service Executive, the Health Information and Quality Authority and the Medical Council, yet overcrowding continued.
If not for Dr Gray, it is our belief that the open verdict handed down by Dublin County Coroner Dr Kieran Geraghty would not have been delivered.
More than this, his honesty gave us hope that something might change in the future, and that another family would not have to go through what we had had to experience.
He spoke not only as a medical professional, but as a person who genuinely cared about the safety of those lining the corridors of a hospital that had been proven to be unsafe.
So this week when Dr Gray confirmed to The Irish Times that he had been asked not to submit the opinion statement in its entirety at the inquest it shocked us.
As a family we have searched for answers, and the HIQA inquiry that followed his death did uncover many failings within the walls of Tallaght hospital, but even now it is Dr Gray’s words that bring us the most comfort because they were filled with honesty at a time when it seemed others were scrambling to hide the absolute truth.
A husband, a father, and a friend; my dad died on his own on a trolley that he was grateful for, because sitting on a chair for six hours was too painful.
At least at the inquest Dr Gray tried to restore some of the dignity that my dad had lost, and we, as a family, are forever in his debt to him for his bravery in trying to expose what is really happening in our hospitals on a daily basis.
(on behalf of the Walsh family)
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