NEWS

Staff have spoken out in defence of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham after an election trail visit by prime minister Tony Blair sparked an angry row about the quality of its services.

A media feeding frenzy followed the confrontation between Mr Blair and Sharron Storer, who ambushed him at the hospital's front door and told him there was no specialist bed for her partner, Keith Sedgwick, who is suffering from cancer. She also criticised standards of cleanliness at the hospital and claimed that moving her husband from ward to ward created an infection hazard.

Staff admit that the hospital, built in 1938, was not designed for modern medicine. But they insist that the bone marrow unit where Mr Sedgwick is being treated is one of the best in the country and that at no stage was he denied a bed.

Specialist bone marrow transplant consultant Prem Mahendra said the hospital operates an 'open door' policy for patients and encourages them to drop in without an appointment if they are feeling unwell.

'I am confident that the clinical care we give our bone marrow transplant patients is high and can confirm that the care offered to Mr Sedgwick was not compromised. The patient was admitted as a medical emergency and was cared for on a medical emergency ward with qualified staff. A transfer to a specialist unit was organised in less than 24 hours. '

Mr Sedgwick attended the unit on Monday last week and was seen by staff who decided to admit him as a medical emergency.

He was taken to the emergency admissions unit where he remained for 30 minutes before being transferred to a bed in an adjacent ward. He was transferred to the specialist inpatient haematology unit a day later.

Trust chief executive Mark Britnell said a£1m ward improvement plan was launched this year and a recent visit by inspectors from the patient environment action team endorsed the trust's improvement plans.

But he said the real solution to the problem was a newly approved£291m private finance initiative development, which will replace QEH and Selly Oak Hospital.

Mr Britnell said living with cancer was 'heart-rending' for patients and loved-ones. 'Our staff seek to offer care to the highest standards in facilities which sometimes mitigate against this.

Our new hospital gives us the chance to provide all that people expect but this will take time. '