Janet Street-Porter: Repugnant, a disgrace to the NHS

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The Independent Online

When my sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer she wanted just one thing - to be in the cosy environment of her living room surrounded by familiar objects, from well-thumbed family photo albums to her cat.

She would lie in the bed the hospital had supplied, hooked up to her oxygen cylinder, wearing the pink -and-white flannelette pyjamas I'd got her, watching a bit of day-time telly, nibbling at suppers she had talked her husband into cooking, occasionally barking orders about what to defrost and how long to roast the chicken.

What she never expected was to be condemned to die in a noisy mixed-sex hospital ward with a bunch of men she'd never met, one of whom would masturbate in front of her at night, distressing Pat and the other female patients to the point where some were in tears, justifiably feeling totally uncared for.

When Pat collapsed and was rushed to the A&E department at Hillingdon Hospital, on three separate occasions, she received top-quality care. What followed was disgraceful. She was shunted upstairs to Grange Ward, which contained a mixed bag of patients - ranging from those with fractures to others with drug problems, dementia and heart conditions.

Being in hospital is stressful enough, but being on a ward where the inhabitants are constantly arriving from A&E and, after a short stay, being sent on to other wards is totally unacceptable, especially if you are dependent on oxygen and therefore of limited mobility.

When women are sick, they need their privacy. They can just about cope with hospital if they are surrounded by other women in the same boat - a kind of camaraderie will grow upand they will be able to manage the experience together.

But once they are required to share bathrooms, showers and toilets with men, they are being treated far worse than prisoners. And if they are disabled, and need help to go to the toilet, if that hospital's facilities are pretty basic then they will have the ultimate shame of sitting on the loo without a door that closes properly - as in Grange Ward.

Factor into that misery the fact that Grange Ward was toured by teams of doctors, surrounded by their trainees, inspecting the patients as if they were animals in the zoo. Then, there's the noise - from the staff, the televisions, the mobile phones, the endless people visiting, cleaning, catering and so on. For a terminally ill patient it is sheer hell. My sister could not change her nightie without getting someone to draw the curtains around her bed. She had to struggle to the toilet if she didn't want to sit on a commode in full view of a bunch of men, screened by a bit of fabric and nothing else.

When you know you are going to die all you want is some dignity - and, quite honestly, mixed wards are repugnant and a disgrace to the National Health Service.

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