People Using Public Hospitals Continue to Face Covid-19 Related Disruptions

People using public acute hospitals in Ireland continue to deal with challenging and often traumatising experiences due to the restrictions and disruptions caused by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

During 2021 and 2022, patients and their families have reported issues such as visiting restrictions still being in place, ongoing poor communication from hospitals wards and continuing delays with medical procedures.

These are the findings of the Patient Advocacy Service, an independent, free and confidential service that provides information, advice and advocacy to people who want to make a complaint about an experience they have had in a Public Acute Hospital or HSE-operated Nursing Home.

The Service is delivered by the National Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities (NAS) and funded by the Department of Health (DoH).

The complaint issues encountered by the Patient Advocacy Service reflect the recent results of the National Inpatient Experience Survey for 2021, particularly the issues around family members not being able to visit patients in hospitals or speak to healthcare professionals to find out what is going on.

Of the 3,383 complaint issues identified by the Patient Advocacy Service in 2021, 70% related to communication, including people’s anxieties being acknowledged but not addressed, staff not communicating healthcare plans, visiting being unavailable, people having difficulty phoning healthcare units and staff speaking to people in a condescending manner. These trends have continued to present in the first half of 2022, with 62% of the 2,783 complaint issues identified since the start of 2022 relating to communication.

People contacting, and supported by, the Service during 2021 and the first half of this year have spoken of difficulty communicating with healthcare units. They said at times their telephone calls were unanswered or were not being returned.

This was particularly difficult for families who were unable to visit their family members, even for a short time. It caused distress for families and feelings of isolation and anxiety for patients, some of whom were vulnerable and found it difficult to use mobile phones and technology to communicate.

Louise Loughlin, National Manager of the National Advocacy Service (NAS), said: “The complaint issues presented to the Patient Advocacy Service were at their worst during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, but they still persist in many public acute hospitals. Covid-19 continues to impact on the experience of patients, with the top complaints seen by our Service in 2021 and 2022 still around communication and dignity and respect.

“Given the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 virus, it is crucial that health services learn from people’s negative experiences, using their feedback to continue to improve their service delivery. This will ensure these services are better prepared to respond to future challenges that Covid-19 could bring.”

The Patient Advocacy Service has launched its Annual Report 2021. The report presents the key activities, statistics and achievements of the Service during a year when the Covid-19 pandemic continued to impact on its advocacy work and the people it supports.

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