Surrounded by shelves of hospital supplies, 80-year-old Doris McKeown lies in the windowless store cupboard where she spent two days before being operated on
By Jenny Hope
Last updated at 8:22 AM on 11th February 2010
Confused and in pain, 80-year-old Doris McKeown is kept in a hospital cupboard while she awaits emergency surgery.
The pensioner was stored away for 48 hours in a tiny windowless room, with only shelves of hospital supplies for company.
On the door outside was a sign saying 'Dignity in Care'.
But inside the store cupboard - called a 'treatment room' by management but a 'broom cupboard' by Mrs McKeown - she suffered the indignity of being overlooked for medication and meals.
She was taken to Norfolk and Norwich Hospital last October needing an urgent operation for compression of the nerves in her spine, which can lead to paralysis.
The mother of two said: 'It was a relief to be in hospital as I knew it was a serious condition, but in the middle of the night I was transferred to a storeroom off the main ward because they hadn't got enough beds. It was like a broom cupboard.'
When she was seen by the consultant, he had to squeeze in with two other doctors and Mrs McKeown's daughter Dr Helena McKeown, a GP who is also chairman of the community care committee at the British Medical Association.
' The consultant didn't seem surprised, it seemed to happen regularly,' said Mrs McKeown, whose late husband Joe was a newspaper photographer.
'I had nurses coming in all the time to pick up the supplies and they were very good, but as I wasn't on the proper ward I missed out on some of the rounds for meals and medication.
'I didn't get put on the ward until after the operation two nights later.
'It's extraordinary that patients have to be looked after in a cupboard because the hospital doesn't have enough beds.'
Dr McKeown said: 'My mother needed emergency surgery and she ended up in a cupboard. Where's the dignity in care?'
The family is appalled that patients are routinely housed in such rooms as a result of a controversial scheme using private companies to build NHS hospitals for a profit.
They claim the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital not only has fewer proper beds than the old building it replaced but that the public will be paying for it for decades.
Dr McKeown has raised her concerns with the hospitals' watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, and last week gave evidence to MPs.
She said the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme that funded the hospital was undermining the NHS. 'The PFI scheme is being used throughout the NHS, which pays private companies for a period of 25 to 30 years,' she said.
'It's like a mortgage with a very high rate of interest and maintenance costs that my four children will be paying for 30 years - and they can't even build a hospital with sufficient space for local patients.'
The £229million Norwich hospital, opened in 2001, pays an annual rent of £40million a year.
Figures show the NHS will pay out £63billion for privately financed hospitals - £52billion more than they are worth.
The first payments for hospital Private Finance Initiatives began in 1999 and the NHS still owes £58billion on 106 contracts over the next three decades. The BMA will today launch a campaign against the 'commercialisation' of the NHS, which it says is putting profits ahead of patients.
Andrew Stronach, of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, said it has 1,010 beds - more than the 952 replaced in two old hospitals. But he admitted that 27 wards had such 'treatment rooms'.
He added: 'They are not cupboards, they are treatment rooms. They are normally used for patients who are risk assessed before being discharged.'
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