Saluting Antrim's NHS heroes

A LOCAL man has paid emotional tribute to the tireless team at Antrim Hospital who came to his aid in his hour of need.

Paul O’Neill said he was hugely impressed by the professionalism and dedication he witnessed - and also deeply touched by the old-fashioned kindness of strangers.

The problems began on Monday (March 21) whilst at home with his wife and children when he became concerned by his racing heartbeat.

“Against my better judgment, I decided to drive myself to Antrim Area Hospital as I was very concerned with the visible pounding in my chest,” said Paul.

“On arrival I was surprised to find the waiting room so busy on a Monday evening during the pandemic, but made my way to the welcome desk to report my concerns.”

And then he got his first taste of the friendly professionalism among staff - despite the obvious pressures they were working under.

“The lady who took my details set the tone for the level of service I could expect,” said Paul.

“She was very warm and friendly, and eased my concerns that I maybe shouldn’t be visiting the Emergency Department, telling me that I was absolutely right to get checked out and told me to take a seat and that someone would be calling me as soon as they possibly could.

“The number of visitors to the Emergency Department continued to grow as the Triage staff worked their way through the list, calling me in in a very respectable timeframe.

“Again, the two nurses who dealt with me at this point were excellent – taking bloods and carrying out an ECG all while maintaining a very friendly and jovial atmosphere and keeping me calm and reassured.”

And then he was back in the waiting room, where he saw first hand how tempers can occasionally fray.

“The waiting time significantly increased as the staff worked tirelessly through the increasing numbers before them.

“There were a few agitated patients at this point who were as worried as I was and, at times, staff were getting it in the neck from them as they passed, but the level of professionalism in the face of criticism and complaint really struck me.

“Eventually, a senior Doctor called me to discuss my results. I am disappointed to say that I didn’t get this doctor’s name, but I recognised him as his alertness in the same waiting room a year previously had saved my father’s life as he was gravely ill with - unknown to us at the time - sepsis.

“Once in a private room he explained that there were worrying markers in my blood. When we delved a little into possible causes for my troubles, he was quick to scold me for some choices I had been making in my lifestyle, energy drinks for example, and pulled no punches, which I respected greatly.

“At the same time he was incredibly reassuring and told me to wait in the waiting area again so that I could have a second blood sample taken for comparison and to enable him to liaise with the cardiac specialist.

“After another long wait, I finally met the lovely Sister Sarah and a nurse called Eva, in the Observations Unit in ED. They needed to take my bloods again and give me a COVID swab test and they were genuinely fantastic – at a time where I was seriously concerned for my health and the potential problems ahead after the first test results.

“These ladies honestly brought anxiety levels way down and I was able to enjoy their company.

“Between them and a few other nurses who took bloods and carried out further ECG tests, I was so impressed at how they were able to do such stressful jobs in such testing times, with such fantastic attitudes, work ethic and care.

“A real breath of fresh air.”

With each passing hour he met further tireless members of the team - and the experience was always the same.

“After a very long night in the Observations Unit, where I was extremely well taken care of, it was decided that I would be best placed in the cardiac ward.

“Another lovely nurse who had recently started the Tuesday morning shift and a very sincere and friendly porter wheeled my bed to the unit and the craic was 90. Just what I needed.

“Once in the hands of the cardiac unit staff, I was warmly welcomed and introduced to a very enthusiastic student nurse who took all my details again.

“Just like the Emergency Department, every single member of staff that I had the pleasure to meet were incredibly friendly, reassuring and extremely professional.

“Between 9 and 10am, I was surrounded by an entire cardiac team who discussed my condition, test results and also monitored my heart.

“It was decided that I should have an ultrasound and a treadmill test, but even at this point, the doctor was confident that I was suffering from a muscle spasm as opposed to a serious heart problem, but he wanted to be certain.

“They were very thorough and put me through my paces.

“I had the pleasure of meeting a man called, I think, Alan, who was possibly a cleaner or porter in the cardiac unit. He brought me tea, was sweeping the ward and doing various essential duties, but it was his personality that was the real speciality.

“He was so friendly and had a great sense of humour. He kept me smiling as I waited. An absolute gentleman.

“Eventually a nice lady brought me round to another room and carried out a detailed ultrasound before bringing me back in one piece.

“Then, after a brief nap and some lunch, I was introduced to another two nurses in the treadmill room. They had to prepare me for the test and put me through my paces. Again, they were excellent. Genuinely a real theme during my stay.

“I passed everything with flying colours and left the hospital at around 4pm on Tuesday.”

Obviously he was a relieved man, but he also deeply moved by the care he had received. During the pandemic there has been much talk about out NHS heroes - but Paul had seen them fly to action first hand.

And he wanted them to know just how much he appreciated all they did for him - and everyone else in that busy ED last week.

“I wanted to put in writing exactly what I experienced – an extremely efficient and professional service from start to finish.

“Admittedly, there was a lot of waiting time which is frustrating, but that was solely down to the large numbers attending the Department and very obviously no reflection on the amazing efforts and dedication of the staff – literally every staff member I came in contact with.

“During the long waits, it was genuinely fascinating to watch the doctors and nurses work together to deal with each individual case and circumstance with such endeavour.

“I really wanted to detail the efforts of the entire team in Antrim Area Hospital at a time where bad publicity seems to be the only publicity, through no fault of the staff on the front line who work tirelessly for less pay than they’re worth, at times for people who don’t always appreciate their efforts.

“I sincerely cannot thank them or praise them enough and hope they know that they are appreciated a lot more than they realise.

“Where would we be without them? I dread to think!”

The Northern Trust thanked the local man for his ‘lovely feedback’, adding his comments would ‘mean so much to our staff’.

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