A woman who had a miserable stay in the Red Cross hospital accommodation while in Aberdeen with her sick brother is calling for improvements.
Heather Slater from Burra spent two weeks in the guesthouse supporting her brother Paul Huntingdon while he was having radiotherapy.
But, she said, problems with raw sewage not only made their stay deeply unpleasant but represented a health hazard for patients with deficient immune systems.
Ms Slater said that management at the accommodation initally refused to call out a plumber and relationships deteriorated to the extent that at one point the family was threatened with being turned out.
They have now complained to MSP Tavish Scott about their experience at the guesthouse, which caters mainly for hospital patients with cancer and other serious conditions and their family or carers.
Ms Slater and her partner Chris Smith, who both work as carers for Mr Huntingdon, accompanied him to Aberdeen on 6th October. The guesthouse was full and the three were put in a family room with Mr Huntingdon, 58, who has terminal lung cancer.
Ms Slater was pleased when the next day a room became available for her brother, who besides his illness has learning difficulties, emphysema and epilepsy.
But the situation became worse during the first weekend when the toilets became blocked and raw sewage began seeping into the showers and sinks.
Ms Slater said she complained to the housekeeper in the early afternoon on Sunday, but: “The manageress (housekeeper) wouldn’t get anyone out because she said she had to get permission from Inverness. She said it could wait until Monday. Nothing was done because it was more expensive to call out a plumber at the weekend.”
Fortunately, said Ms Slater, many of the isles patients had gone home for the weekend and only about six people remained in the guesthouse, which has 18 twin and several family rooms, all en suite. If the accommodation had been full the situation would have been much worse.
Ms Slater said she and the other residents complained constantly to the housekeeper during the afternoon that toilets in the guest rooms were blocked, which was when Ms Slater maintained she and her family were told to leave.
Eventually, Ms Slater said: “A cleaner persuaded her [the housekeeper] to call a plumber and two men came about 6.30pm.” Aberdeen district manager Abdul Bhatti also arrived on the scene.
The plumbers tried without success to fix the problem, leaving at around 10.30pm. Ms Slater said they actually made the problem worse by bursting a pipe and having to catch the overflowing sewage in buckets.
That night, she said, the residents were left with only two toilets in publicly-available rooms which they were told not to flush, and they were not allowed to use the showers.
The plumbers came back the next day and managed to fix the blocked system around noon, nearly 24 hours after the fault was reported.
Ms Slater was distressed at the way it was handled. “There was no apology, no empathy. People coming down from Shetland are frightened enough as it is. Some of them are on chemo and their immune systems are low. There was no deep clean afterwards and I was worried about my brother getting an infection.”
However Ms Slater’s version of events is disputed by Mr Bhatti. The housekeeper had been on annual leave but had come in from her house next door to help. She had called a plumber, he said, but it had been impossible to get one straight away. “We tried our best. [This plumbing firm] was the quickest one to come and they did arrive in two hours.
“It was not possible to fix it on the same day as they couldn’t find the problem. Only six rooms were affected and [Ms Slater] kept insisting her room should be fixed the same day. She had two rooms and she could have used the other one.
“We said if she wanted to go somewhere else she would get a refund. And we did apologise profusely.”
He added that the premises are cleaned “all the time” and has now arranged a survey with a health and safety officer.
But Ms Slater said it was only when the residents “ganged up” that that a plumbing firm was called. She said it would not have been possible to go anywhere else as all guesthouses in Aberdeen are usually full.
And Mr Smith said: “If there was an apology I didn’t hear it.”
In a statement, Mr Bhatti said: “On Sunday 11th October at about 4pm the visitor’s toilet became blocked. As it was only one toilet and guests still had full use of their en suite facilities, the staff decided to put an out of order sign on the toilet and call out a plumber first thing the following morning, during normal working hours.
“Half an hour later, a further six toilets within guests’ rooms also became blocked and staff called an emergency plumber immediately. The plumber arrived within the hour and worked from 6pm until 11pm to fix the problem. During this time, guests in the six affected rooms were given the full use of the bathroom in an empty room. The other 12 rooms in the guesthouse were completely unaffected. One of the affected guests was also able to use the bathroom in her brother’s room, which was in full working order. Guesthouse staff apologised fully to guests at the time and offered a full refund and the chance to find alternative accommodation if they preferred.
“The plumbers returned the following morning and fixed the problem, which had been caused by a plastic bag being flushed down the toilet in one of the rooms. All bathrooms were thoroughly cleaned and returned to guests by 1pm on Monday.
“We sincerely apologise to our guests for any inconvenience or distress this situation caused, however I must commend the fantastic staff team at the guesthouse – one of whom was actually on holiday during the incident – for dealing with it so quickly and professionally.”
Mr Bhatti said the complaint was the only one received and many people write letters of thanks.
The Red Cross building, which has recently been refurbished, has been used for decades as a “home from home” for patients from the Northern Isles, and also caters for “anyone who is stranded for any reason”.
Bed and breakfast at the city centre guesthouse costs £23 per person per night.