When 94-year-old Rose Addis gashed her head in a fall at her home last Sunday, she could not have known her subsequent treatment would turn into one of the most ferocious political disputes this Government has seen.

When 94-year-old Rose Addis gashed her head in a fall at her home last Sunday, she could not have known her subsequent treatment would turn into one of the most ferocious political disputes this Government has seen.

Her 72-hour stay at the Whittington Hospital in north London has become a pitched battle of claim and counter-claim, going to the heart of the debate about the health service.

Last night, as the hospital suggested Mrs Addis had refused treatment from ethnic minority nurses, the row also turned into a lethal cocktail of race, spin and high politics.

A formal complaint was lodged against the hospital by Mrs Addis's family yesterday, alleging she was left unwashed and unchanged for three days in a cubicle in casualty.

The saga began on 13 January, when Mrs Addis fell at her flat in Stoke Newington. An ambulance took her to the Whittington, in Archway, suffering from bruising and shock. Her daughter, Zena Gold, was not able to travel to the hospital that day. But when relatives saw Mrs Addis two days later, she was sitting confused in the A&E department in the clothes she wore when she arrived.

A letter of complaint to hospital managers by Jason Gold, her grandson, said it was a disgrace "to treat her or anyone else with such abandon".

On Monday the London Evening Standard published the family's claims on its front page, under the banner headline "Abandoned in casualty". The story enraged Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary. He went on BBC Radio 4's Today programme to insist: "When we are dealing with these problems, let's talk fact not fiction." The hospital described the claims as, "factually inaccurate and wholly misleading".

But in the meantime, further claims of poor treatment emerged, with the case of 88-year-old Sidney Hockley, who is said to have spent 120 hours at Whittington A&E.

Yesterday a third allegation about the hospital surfaced, with complaints from the parents of James Scott-Faulkner, 13, who said he waited for more than eight hours in casualty with the symptoms of meningitis, which is potentially fatal.

Professor James Malone-Lee, medical director of the Whittington, told Radio 4: "This lady was managed extremely well by the emergency staff." He said she was treated and observed throughout the night because she was "confused".

On the Monday she was transferred to the A&E ward before being assessed by hospital staff. She was transferred into the main body of the hospital the next day.

He said: "Scalp wounds bleed a lot. You don't go and shampoo someone's head when you had stitched it, it would be a stupid thing to do. She was cleaned around the area. She was confused and kept trying to scratch the area, which is why she had blood under her fingernails. She would not allow the nursing staff who were on duty in the A&E department at the time to change her. She refused."

Professor Malone-Lee went further last night when he told BBC2's Newsnight: "She had a particular reservation about some of the nurses who were on duty. I'm not going to develop that much further.

"I have discussed it with my colleagues and it's an area of health care that's often a problem to us. It causes a great degree of distress to the staff. It is a sensitive issue."

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