Calls for separate waiting space to keep drunks and children apart at A&E

Separate waiting and assessment facilities must be provided at University Hospital Galway’s A&E department to treat children, the chairman of the HSE West’s regional health forum stated this week.

Cllr Padraig Conneely said this issue is a major priority which must be addressed in the future.

He was speaking in the wake of the publication of the findings of a new audit of emergency departments in hospitals outside Dublin.

It revealed that only six of 17 hospitals had dedicated sections for children. In 11 hospitals, including UHG, children share emergency department facilities with adults, some of whom are drunk or violent. Portiuncula Hospital is Ballinasloe is one of the six hospitals which has a separate waiting area.

The audit, carried out by the HSE, also showed that 12,000 children attend Galway regional hospital’s A&E department each year. It has only two cubicles for them which are separated by a curtain.

Cllr Conneely pointed out that the need for separate facilities for children in emergency departments is a matter which has been highlighted to him by patients on a number of occasions. He has also witnessed this need while visiting the hospital.

“This issue has been brought to my attention on several occasion and I’ve witnessed it myself on a regular basis. I’ve seen children and very elderly and very, very sick patients having to share space with people who are out of their minds with drink and drugs. It’s appalling. It is a very frightening experience for children. This problem is particularly prevalent at night, especially weekends and holiday occasions, such as St Patrick’s Day. These people are dumped in A&E by friends and they can get aggressive if they are not seen by staff instantly. This is a very difficult situation for nurses and doctors who are overworked - UHG has one of the busiest emergency departments in the country.”

He said while there is not a simple solution to this problem the issue must be addressed. “There needs to be an area within A&E dedicated to children - this would mean extending the facility. It would involve a major sea change in the way the department operates. It should be looked at in the future.”

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames recommended that one area should be cordoned off as an immediate solution to the problem.

“It is not suitable for children to be sharing with adults, especially people who are drunk. We’re after putting in a special amendment in the Constitution that every child matters. All the literature indicates that we need special facilities for them.

“I know there is pressure on A&E facilities but it is important that one area is cordoned off for children. It would be better if there was a separate section altogether. This issue should be discussed at the next management meeting.”

Mary Tierney of Patient Focus, the patient advocate organisation, said what is best for patients is always at the forefront of its thoughts.

“The elimination of risk to all patients, including children, should be foremost in everyone’s minds. A few times I’ve been in A&E I’ve seen children present and the staff were very good in that they brought them in [for assessment] very quickly. They would not be exposed to anything, [ie rowdy behaviour/drunkenness] for too long.”

She said if situations involving anti-social behaviour occur she believed commonsense prevails and hospital staff act swiftly and prioritise children. “From my observations staff by and large are sensitive to the needs of children and all patients.”

Due to lack of resources separate waiting or assessment areas for children may not become a reality in hospitals in the current climate, she believed.

“It is important that the best use is made of existing services, if that means the use of another area or whatever. I don’t believe there is a need for a different structure but the smarter use of what we have. It is also important that the level of awareness is raised that if any incident [rowdiness, etc,]occurs appropriate action is taken.”

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