By Cara Sulieman
AN ELDERLY couple who have been married for 25 years have been forced 13 miles apart by the NHS because of red tape.
Charles Peterson, 88, was refused a place in a care home in his hometown because his step-daughter works there.
And now his wife Margaret, 82, has to make a 26 mile round trip to North Berwick to visit her husband from her home in Dunbar.
The couple only spent a few days apart in their 25 years of marriage – even travelling the world together when Charles got a job in Saudi Arabia – until he had to be taken into hospital following a stroke in early 2008.
An old person’s charity has branded the decision “ridiculous” and is calling for East Lothian Community Health Partnership to reconsider their position.
Margaret said that the family got their hopes up when they heard that Charles could be moved to the Dunbar care home – just one mile from his home – but have now been shattered by the decision to retract the offer.
She said: “It was like giving a bag of sweeties to two delighted schoolchildren and then snatching them back again.
“It has been awful living so far apart from Charles. I can only visit him every five weeks or so and every time we see each other we spend the whole visit in tears because we miss each other so much.
“He calls me every morning when he gets up, and I call him at night before bed, but it’s not the same as being able to see each other. We just want to spend our last years together as a couple.”
Charles spent 11 months at the high dependency unit at Belhaven Nursing Home in Dunbar after his stroke but was moved to the care home in North Berwick when his condition approved.
It looked as though the couple would be reunited when a place came up at Belhaven’s permanent accommodation last month.
But NHS bosses discovered that Margaret’s daughter from a previous marriage, Katie Fairgrieve, 59, is a nurse in the palliative care ward and vetoed the decision.
The family have appealed the decision with local care managers, NHS Lothian and the Care Commission but their pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears.
The only option that has been offered to the family was for Katie to give up the job she loves and move somewhere else.
Margaret said: “I can’t ask her to do that and she shouldn’t have to. It’s not fair on her to say that the only way Charles can move back to Dunbar is if she gives up her job.
“Katie’s my daughter from a previous marriage so there’s not a drop of blood between them. Aside from the fact that she works in a completely different ward, when she crosses the doors of the nursing home she becomes a professional so even if they did come into contact she would not allow her feelings to affect her work.
“We thought the move to Belhaven would be the perfect solution but the wannabe Gods at the NHS said it would be inappropriate.”
The wrangle has meant that Charles has lost the spot at the home, which has now been given to someone else.
“Over application of the rules”
A spokesman for Age Concern and Help the Aged Scotland said that although there are rules in place to prevent immediate family members from working in the same place where their relative is a patient, it seems as though NHS Lothian has taken it too far in this case.
He said: “It seems a bit over the top. These rules apply to immediate family and this seems to be a case where it isn’t immediate family. It is a gross over application of the rules in this regard.
“It seems they have made the decision without taking into consideration the ramifications for those nearest and dearest to him.
“A bit of common sense would have seemed more applicable in this case. There are rules but it is how you implement those rules that make a difference. They should be looking at the impact on the people concerned.
“If she has to make a 26 mile round trip every time she wants to see her husband then that is ridiculous – something needs to be changed. The authorities should look into this again and reconsider their position.”
But Mairi Pollock, clinical services manager for East Lothian Community Health Partnership (CHP), said that the rules were in place to make sure that a professional relationship was maintained.
She said: “Providing quality care for each patient is a priority for East Lothian CHP.
“East Lothian CHP has an obligation to maintain the integrity of the professional relationship between patients and staff when personal relationships overlap professional care.
“We are working closely with our East Lothian Council colleagues and Mr Peterson’s family to ensure he continues to receive appropriate care.”