Sun, Mar
21 New Articles

Health system fails Achill cancer sufferer

looking for a helping hand

Looking for a helping hand

Achill resident let down by health system as she watches partner die from cancer

Anton McNulty

Eight years ago, Ellen Moorehouse met her partner Samuel Moore at a funeral in Dublin. Now she is faced with the task of arranging his funeral for him. Sam is in the final stages in his five-year battle with cancer, and doctors say he will likely die in the next few days. However instead of cherishing the end of the time they have together, Ellen is frustrated and annoyed. She feels abandoned by the health system in the last days of Sam’s life.
The last fortnight has been heart-wrenching for Ellen as she watches her partner suffer in pain and deteriorate with every passing hour. Up until recently Sam, who hails from Antrim but has been living in the Achill area for over 20 years, was leading an active life. However,  in the last month he has been bedridden as the final stages of his illness took hold of him.
Ellen promised Sam that his final days would be spent in his own home, but she has found fulfilling that promise difficult. Sam needs round-the-clock care, with tasks ranging from ensuring he is comfortable to syringing his kidney six times a day. 
On three occasions Ellen collapsed with sheer exhaustion. Her frustration came to a head last Thursday when she was told at 7pm that a night nurse who was due to arrive would not be coming – resulting in another sleepless night.
“For the last 15 days he has needed 24-hour care. I asked for a sitter on July 5 and got one on July 7 and 8 but I have had nobody since. I am up constantly with Sam and cannot get sleep. Last Thursday I really needed to get some sleep because I fainted three times. I was told I would have a night nurse but at 7pm that the evening I was told nobody would travel to Achill. I only wanted three hours sleep on Thursday that is all I wanted. Three hours is not a lot to ask for, is it?”

Cruel cutbacks

Apart from a once-daily visit from a palliative care nurse who comes to check on Sam, Ellen is the sole care provider. Ellen was told by a medical practitioner that others in her situation had been entitled to a night nurse for 14 shifts. However, when she tried to arrange for such help, she was told that because of cut-backs, it is hard to get nurses to travel to Achill because it is ‘too far away’. A hospital bed was delivered to the home last week but because of cutbacks, Ellen said they could not provide any blankets or linen.
Ellen believes people are not aware of the hardship that families looking after a loved one suffering from cancer go through. The system is not fair, she says.
“I am one of these people who tries to do their best, and I feel I have been let down badly by the state. I have saved the state a fortune by keeping Sam at home. You can keep a sick person at home if you get the right help and support. All I am asking for are simple little things to keep Sam at home and comfortable.”

Ellen Moorehouse feels abandoned by the health system. Top of page: Ellen takes Sam’s hand in hers.
DISTRAUGHT Ellen Moorehouse feels abandoned by the health system. Top of page: Ellen takes Sam’s hand in hers.

When Ellen and Sam first met in Dublin, they got on so well Sam invited her to Achill for the weekend. There is a 20-year age gap between the two, but that was no obstacle – their relationship blossomed, and Ellen moved to Achill to live with him. However, three years into their relationship, Sam was diagnosed with cancer of the bladder, which spread to other parts of his body.
Ellen explained that they decided to speak out, not to help her or Sam, but to highlight the problems in the hope that something can be done to ensure other people in similar situations do not fall between the care cracks, as she has done.
“I have only a little time left with Sam now and don’t want to miss anymore time with him now. He is my best friend and to watch him fail is the most heart-wrenching thing to witness. People don’t realise how much it rips a family apart.
“All we are getting are reductions in services. It makes me so angry. Speaking out is not going to help Sam … it is too late for him, but it might help someone else.”

Sam Moore was admitted to Mayo General Hospital on Sunday evening.