Northern Ireland

Emergency departments: A sea of people waiting to be seen

Emergency department
Image caption Marie-Louise Connolly said she was shocked by the scenes in the emergency department

BBC News NI Health correspondent Marie-Louise Connolly took a first-hand look at a Northern Ireland hospital emergency department.

She described what she saw and heard.

The sound of coughing, the horrendous noise of wheezing - also a harsh shrill, painful, retching, barking noise you would think could not have come from a person.

I turned a corner and before me was just a sea of people in an area reserved for people waiting to be admitted.

Emergency units under 'severe pressure'

There wasn't a free space in the area as people sat on the floor, some on wheelchairs, others on ordinary hard plastic chairs.

Six or seven-hour waits

I counted at least six people wearing oxygen masks. Along a different wall I counted 18 people waiting.

Some of these people, to get to this point, had been waiting perhaps six or seven hours and they would remain there until a hospital bed became available.

Image caption Paramedics were told there was no space to leave trolleys

They were sitting or standing two to three deep around the nurses' station - some had relations with them, holding their hands, holding cups of water.

And all this against a backdrop of nurses and doctors stretching over each other, stretching to access computers to try and care for very sick people.

Then I walked into another area for cubicles - but staff had to step around trolleys in order to get through curtains.

'Head in hands'

Behind the curtains, it was mostly old men and women looking frail, again coughing. One old lady on her own was crying.

Further still into the ambulatory area, one paramedic was sitting with his head in his hands.

Image caption Many people had been waiting perhaps six or seven hours and would remain there until a hospital bed became available

His colleague told me they'd been on the go without a break from early in the morning.

I could hear another paramedic asking a nurse where could they leave the trolley - she said at the moment they didn't have a free space.

'Shocking for patients and staff'

These were shocking scenes and really you have to see to believe what is happening in some of Northern Ireland's emergency departments.

I was allowed to talk to staff briefly and as well as telling me how exhausted they were, one also asked me how politicians can let this happen.

If they saw this surely it would be enough to get them working together again, they said.

What I saw today is something I never thought I would see in a modern hospital in 2018 in Northern Ireland - shocking for patients, but equally shocking for staff.

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