Pictured at the protest at Mayo University Hospital today were, from left, Sinead Conway, Tommy Barrett, Harry Barrett, Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh, Paul Lawless, Councillor Michael Kilcoyne and Councillor Blackie Gavin.

Mayo protest hears plea for an end to hospital overcrowding chaos

Despite massive investment in health services over the past decade, not one single new bed was provided at Mayo University Hospital (MUH) during an eight-year period prior to outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in February 2020.

The telling point was made by local Aontú representative Paul Lawless at a protest he organised at the Castlebar facility today to highlight ongoing overcrowding issues at the centre.

Mr. Lawless said 600 people had to be accommodated on trolleys at MUH during the month of last November alone as a result of the capacity crisis, a figure that does not include the number of patients left sitting on chairs in the emergency department.

"A friend of mine was left on a chair for 14 hours before he got a trolley.

"That's how bad the situation is and it is repeated day after day, week after week.

"And the government's remarkable response is to effectively blame people for getting sick in the first place.

"The situation is having a negative impact on the lives of patients and the pressures placed on frontline staff as a result are unfair and unacceptable.

"Regrettably, these problems will continue unless capacity and staffing issues are addressed."

Mr. Lawless said the relatively small turnout at the protest was not a matter of concern as his campaign is destined to grow over the coming months.

"I know there is huge public support for this issue and there is an onus to keep it firmly to the forefront. This is the start of many such protests," he added.

Councillor Michael Kilcoyne, cathaoirleach, Castlebar Municipal District and a member of the HSE West Forum, expressed disappointment at the failure by Mayo's three government TDs - Dara Calleary, Alan Dillon and Michael Ring - to attend the protest.

He said he has been raising concerns about the emergency department at MUH for over 25 years and the situation is not getting any better.

"There is great unhappiness over what is happening with our hospital and people are losing hope that the difficulties will ever be addressed.

"You have to raise questions about the ability of our political leadership to tackle the problems in our health services.

"Fine Gael, for example, has been in government for 13 years now and the system is worse now than it was when it started.

"The situation in Castlebar is so bad now that they have run out of trolleys and yet they are empty beds at Sacred Heart Hospital in the town.

"We are heading to a point where we won't have enough of staff to look after our sick and that's a very sad development indeed."

Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh said she will continue to challenge the government at every opportunity over its neglect of health services.

"The government is to blame for the alarming reduction in our bed numbers over the past number of years despite a sharp rise in our population.

"Now the sick and vulnerable, as well as our frontline staff, are paying a big price for the decision to cut beds.

"It's shameful and those responsible need to be called to account.

"But the people who broke the system will not be the people who will fix it. That's the reality."

Councillor Blackie Gavin, a member of the HSE West Forum, said a sum of €3 million was announced for the emergency department of MUH a number of years ago - but not a cent of it has yet been spent.

"All we are hearing from our government is talk. What the people really want is action and the people need to shout louder and louder," he added.

Harry Barrett, a former elected member of Castlebar Town Council, also addressed the public meeting.

He said the emergency department at MUH is no longer fit for purpose.

"None of us know when we will need to use it. But we are looking at the prospect of spending 48 hours on a trolley before getting treatment.

"Let's be clear, no blame is being attached to the staff. This protest is simply looking for solutions.

"We need our medical services to step up to the plate and help address the situation, particularly at weekends.

"If you are looking for a doctor at the weekend, you are referred to WestDoc and it can be eight hours before you are seen.

"Those who can't wait that long are forced to come into the emergency department and it cannot cope.

"The new primary care centre in Castlebar is not providing the support to the emergency department that we hoped it would.

"The entire approach to emergency and primary heath care needs to be reassessed."

* A minute's silence was observed the course of the protest as a mark of respect to a staff member of Mayo University Hospital who died in a fatal accident in Castlebar last night.