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Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published: 31 May 2007

Tony Blair and Patricia Hewitt meet staff
It’s curtains for single-sex wards promised by Blair

I’M pretty sure there’s one topic that was never mentioned when Tony Blair paid a flying PR visit to the Royal Free hospital last week – single-sex wards.
It would have proved too embarrassing for Blair.
The PM, accompanied by health secretary Patricia Hewitt, landed in the new look Medical Assessment and Admissions Unit on the first floor – the hospital’s only ward, apparently, that remains mixed.
The government, bear in mind, is trying to end the unpopular mixed wards introduced in the early 90s which is proving a bit of an uphill battle.
A report from Britain’s chief nursing officer Christine Beasley reveals that the government has failed to meet its own target, set in 2000, of ensuring 95 per cent of patients get single-sex accommodation.
Hospitals are allowed to place male and female patients in the same ward – usually for those first admitted to hospital – as long as they are in bays or rooms separated by partitions.
This is what happens at University London College Hospital and at the Whittington.
While a patient at the ULCH several months ago I noticed the hospital’s arrangements for separate bays in the admission’s ward fitted in perfectly with Department of Health policy.
And at the Free? From what I observed while recently visiting a relative – an elderly woman – in bay 19 on the MAU, she had been placed in a mixed bay of six beds.
Opposite her were two men.
Later, as patients changed, another woman was moved in.
But never was it a single-sex bay, as defined by the rules of the DoH.
When I spoke to an official at the Free she argued that a curtained-off bed constituted separate accommodation.
But all hospital beds can be curtained off – and that is hardly likely to fall within the DoH guidelines as segregated space.
It seems typical of Blair’s policy advisors, who relish headline-grabbing initiatives, that they hadn’t bothered to check whether the hospital they had chosen for their leader’s visit was actually complying with another initiative they thought of several years ago to end mixed wards.

Artist finds space in huge NCP car park

IT is not the first place I’d think of holding an art exhibition, but once I saw the works by artist David Breur-Weil, I was convinced.
A draughty, oil-stained, cold and dark car park is the sort of place I’d meet Deep Throat, not expect to see giant canvases lit by theatre lights hanging from water pipes with industrial-sized metal chains.
But this is exactly what the Ben-Uri Gallery, based in Boundary Road, St John’s Wood, is doing.
Breur-Weil is the subject of the gallery’s exhibition at the NCP’s car park in Covent Garden, and having seen the sheer size of his canvases, it’s hardly any wonder they went for an industrial-sized display area.
David says he was inspired by his thoughts of the horrors of the last century.
He said: “I was around 20, when I searched through galleries and libraries for a series of works that reflected the upheavals, changes, tragedies and apocalypse of the 20th century, and I could never find what I was looking for, so I decided to do it myself.”
And the result is a series of incredible canvases full of gaping earthy chasms with faceless humans being shoved over the edge, people stuffed into row upon row of cardboard boxes, people falling from the sky.
It seems that with David Hockney’s current exhibition, which includes his largest-ever painting, big is beautiful. In the case of Breur-Weil, I have to agree.
n Breur-Weil’s exhibition opens tomorrow (Friday) for a month at the car park at 9-13 Mercer Street, off St Martin’s Lane.

Oh, Boy! Finally a blue plaque for deserving cause

THE recent wet and windy weather has been good for one thing: it gave me the chance the other weekend to forget any outdoor expeditions and instead curl up on a sofa with Boy, the novel by the late, great James Hanley.
It has recently been re-issued, having been banned since the 30s for obscenity – oh, how our forefathers must have blushed at the slightest suggestion of anything racy.
I had stumbled across this piece of forgotten literature in a most unexpected way.
I had gone on a Saturday morning to Lissenden Gardens in Parliament Hill Fields where people who live in the magnificent red-brick blocks were unveiling plaques in honour of former residents.
Considering how I have knocked English Heritage in this column for turning down plaques for such luminaries as the artist Barnett Friedman and anti-aparthied campaigner Michael Scott, I was delighted to see the residents getting on with the job themselves after EH had been sniffy about their requests.
It was at Lissenden Gardens that I met James’s son Liam who told me the story of his father’s manuscript.
I can only thank Liam for allowing it to be reprinted.
It would have been a great loss to the canon of English literature had it been lost forever because of the prudish attitude of a Lancashire jury back in the early 1930’s.

We can breathe easier with UCL team

THE telephone number had 15 digits to press, so I had a sense that the voice on the other end was speaking to me from a land that was far, far away.
The voice was that of former Whittington Intensive Care nurse Kay Mitchell, who was breathing rather heavily.
Kay is part of a UCL team led by Dr Mike Grocott who are doing groundbreaking research into the effect low oxygen levels have in patients in intensive care, and have taken their lab up the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, to run a series of tests on healthy subjects.
I’d called the camp because I had heard Mike and his team had been involved in a dramatic rescue of a 22-year-old climber who had been left for dead by her companions as they tried to reach the roof of the world.
A Canadian climber found Usha Bista, 22, collapsed with no oxygen and on the point of death.
They struggled down the mountain to the lab at 8,800 metres, where Mike and his medics diagnosed a number of life-threatening conditions, including swelling of the brain, severe hypothermia, and frostbite.
Speaking to me via satellite phone, Kay said: “We had just moved our camp that evening and the lab was set up and there were lots of doctors around. The climber came in and we managed to stabilise her.”
Dr Grocott added: “We were pleased to be able to help. She did not have enough oxygen with her – just one cylinder, which will not get you up and down Everest.”
The deadpan delivery of high altitude derring-do fills me with awe. I look forward to the team’s safe return to the more manageable slopes of Highgate Hill, where I hope their bravery and expertise does not go unnoticed.

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