On New Year’s Eve, Phil Cole needed to be in an isolated bed on a specialist cancer ward.
What he got, his wife Sara says, was a “filthy” makeshift cubicle in the plaster room of an emergency department.
“There was an old bed in there which the paramedics themselves had to make up,” Mrs Cole says.
“The bed had blood stains on the side of it. The sink was full of used bits and bobs, and the floor was filthy with stains and tissue paper from previous patients.”
She was “worried then, because he’s so vulnerable”.
Mr Cole, 62, has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His treatment reduces his body’s immunity, making coughs and colds extremely dangerous. The reason he needed urgent medical attention in the first place was because he had caught flu and collapsed at home.
“When I phoned 999 straightaway, they said it’s going to take hours,” Mrs Cole says.
“And obviously I was very concerned: his temperature was still really high, he was just sleeping the whole time; I had to wake him up to talk to him constantly.”
When an ambulance team eventually arrived, Mrs Cole says they were “brilliant” and told the couple there was a bed for Mr Cole in the cancer ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
It was where he’d been treated previously and meant he could get the specialised care appropriate for his cancer diagnosis.
But on the way, the ambulance was diverted.
“The co-ordinator said they were nine ambulances deep at the Queen Elizabeth,” Mrs Cole says, “and the only place available where he could be isolated was at the Manor Hospital in Walsall.”
That, she says, was an “utter nightmare”.
“Everybody was saying he needs to go to the Queen Elizabeth, and then he ends up in the plaster room of the emergency department in Walsall.”
Mrs Cole says the room, where patients are normally treated for fractures, felt “unsafe”.
“When they changed shift, the sister that came on was going crazy, saying this isn’t acceptable,” Mrs Cole says. “I was really worried that he’s going to pick up something else. I voiced my concerns but the staff were inundated. There was just not enough staff.
“I could hear them shouting to one another, and you know they did not stop the whole time I was there. But for me and Phil it was just the worst experience ever.
“I was just frightened to death.”
Mrs Cole says her husband remains at the same hospital, now in a room on a ward, but he is “stuck there” while he waits for a bed on the cancer ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
“I’m really sad,” she says, “because I’ve always been proud of the NHS and proud that we have that in England, you know, and I’m not anymore.
“It’s just clearly not working.”
A Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust spokesperson said: “We apologise to Mr Cole and his wife that they found the room in this condition.
“Unfortunately, at very busy times, such as we are currently experiencing, things will occasionally be overlooked.
“We would encourage people to alert us at the time they spot any issues so we can look to address them in a timely way.”