A WOMAN left wheelchair-bound by multiple sclerosis who spent over a month in the Mater Hospital was offered nappies as an alternative to a suitable bathroom because no wheelchair accessible toilet was available.
In addition, a catheter (a tube to drain the bladder) was left in for the duration of her 37-day stay despite the fact that a doctor on her neurology team advised it should be removed.
The woman signed herself out of the hospital one weekend just so that she could go home to shower. This followed a number of requests for assistance from staff who told her they would ‘get to her later on’. The woman said when help didn’t arrive, she washed herself using a cloth and a sink, with little shelter when it came to her modesty.
The woman, admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia and pleurisy, had an ensuite bathroom but it was not wheelchair friendly. When she asked staff for an alternative, she was shown a locked toilet in the corridor with a notice that read ‘staff only’, the door of which could only be opened by keying a code into a keypad out of her reach. The bathroom had neither handrails nor a toilet bowl appropriate to someone with a disability.
The woman, who complained of her treatment to the Equality Tribunal, said a nurse offered her nappies as an alternative to the catheter that was inserted on the day she was admitted, but that she declined this offer.
The woman said she was informed that there were accessible toilets on the ground floor, but that due to bladder weakness it was not possible for her to avail of this – she was on the fifth floor. Furthermore, the ground floor toilets closed in the evenings.
The woman subsequently attended the Mater as an out-patient during which time she discovered another accessible toilet had been decommissioned and allocated to staff use only.
In its submission to the Tribunal, the Mater Hospital said it acknowledged and regretted that ‘due to unauthorised actions of staff’, the existing wheelchair accessible toilet of Our Lady’s Ward was placed beyond patient use at that time.
The hospital said it had ‘taken a serious view of these actions and a directive has been issued to all staff making it clear that such facilities are reserved for disabled patients’. The hospital said a decision had been taken that any repeat of such unauthorised activity by staff members, which took place in 2006, would be treated as a disciplinary matter.
The hospital added it had taken, and continues to take steps to render existing facilities wheelchair accessible in addition to making sure all new projects have facilities which are fully wheelchair accessible. However, structural constraints and capacity problems prevent making all facilities fully accessible.
The Tribunal found the Mater had discriminated against the woman on the grounds of disability and awarded her €6,348.69, the maximum amount under equal status legislation.
In its adjudication, published yesterday, the Tribunal noted ‘there is no legal requirement on the hospital ... to provide only fully wheelchair accessible toilets and showers throughout the hospital where the hospital premises in question predate modern building requirements’.
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