WATCH: 'This is a human rights issue' — Hundreds protest against Limerick overcrowding crisis

Fintan Walsh, Health Correspondent

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Fintan Walsh, Health Correspondent

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fintan.walsh@limerickleader.ie

HUNDREDS descended on the streets to robustly condemn the overcrowding crisis at University Hospital Limerick, in what could be seen as one of the biggest ever healthcare protests in Limerick in decades. 

Organised by the Mid-West Hospital Campaign, the demonstration saw close hundreds start the march from St John's Square, converging with other demonstrators from Clare and North Tipperary at Mary Street bridge and Matthew Bridge. 

With Mungret man, Ken McCarthy leading the cacophony of chants, including "Listen up HSE, give us back our A&E", the masses marched down O'Connell Street, Limerick's arterial thoroughfare, waving a rainbow of flags and banners, each representing a movement, union or political banner. 

One of the significant features of the demonstration was the waving of 92 red flags, each numbered and each symbolic of the 92 patients who were treated on trolleys on January 6, which had set another new overcrowding record nationally. 

Though primarily led by activist and Solidarity-People Before Profit candidate, Mary Cahillane, there was a strong caucus of cross-party support for the demonstration, including independents, Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail, Labour and more. 

Labour TDs Jan O'Sullivan and Alan Kelly, who launched the party's health manifesto on Thursday, were joined by fellow party colleagues, holding a large Labour banner throughout the protest. 

The march concluded at Bedford Row, where Melanie Cleary delivered a passionate speech. Her daughter Eve tragically died in July 2019 after she was discharged from the emergency department. 

It was also a poignant location to speak about her late daughter, who worked as a supervisor at Schuh on Bedord Row.

She was joined by her partner Barry, who held a placard with a picture of their daughter, stating: "RIP Eve. You deserved better! X".

Ms Cleary said that the overcrowding crisis is a "human rights issue". 

"I know if Eve was here today, she'd right here, standing with all of us. Eve always believed in fairness and doing the right thing. On the 19th of July, 2019, Eve had a fall on the way to the car. She spent 23 hours in UHL, 17 between A&E and a trolley and six on a ward. Eve was sent home and died hours later in my arms on the stairs. 

"This trolley crisis is not a winter problem. There was a record number of patients on trolleys in July. And since then, they have broken this record time and time again. This is not a trolley crisis; this is a human rights issue," she said, which was met with applause. 

She called for the immediate reopening of St John's emergency department and reinvest in homecare so more inpatient beds can be freed up. 

"We, as a family, never thought we'd be standing here. I never thought I'd ever lose one of my babies, or that something would fail them so badly that she wouldn't be standing with me here today. 

"None of our citizens should be afraid to go to UHL A&E, but that's what's being said. Our people are scared and we will continue to be scared until we stand up for change. It doesn't matter who is in power. We want our health system back for ourselves and for our children."

The heartbroken mother ended: "Eve looked into me eyes for the first time on 14th of the fifth 1998. She searched my face with her beautiful face for the last time on 21st of the seventh 2019. Rest in peace, my sweet, funny, gentle, kind best friend. How we all loved you. 

"But you deserved better."

Member of the Mid-West Hospital Campaign, Noeleen Moran, said that the hospital had broken overcrowding records twice in the space of three months. 

During intervals of her speech, numerous protesters in the jammed Bedford Row chanted "shame" in response. 

She called for the reopening of Ennis and Nenagh A&Es, and for the full restoration of hours of St John's Hospital. 

"You will have your chance, next week at the ballot box, and if they want our votes next week, well, they better come up, very quickly, with some strong commitments for the Mid-West," she said. 

Siptu representative Ger Kennedy also spoke of the pressures that healthcare staff are facing amid overcrowding pressures. 

TDs Willie O'Dea, Maurice Quinlivan, Jan O'Sullivan, and Alan Kelly were present during the protest. 

The UL Hospitals Group has indicated that its 60-bed modular block is due to be fully fitted out by the end of 2020. 

A 96-bed block is now at design stage, however, no estimated time of delivery has been indicated. 

UHL had the worst ever January for overcrowding this year, with 1,215 patients on trolleys, a 25% increase on January 2019.