A woman who lost her hearing in both ears said she felt like “a third class citizen” after York Hospital staff refused to let her into part of the hospital with her hearing dog.
Kirsten Carmichael told hospital bosses she’d been left “devastated” following a series of distressing experiences during visits to the hospital with her “guardian angel”, Pickle the cockerpoo.
Before the recent birth of her daughter, Kirsten, 38, was promised a special care plan which would have seen her given a room alone with Pickle, but this didn’t happen.
Not long after the birth, Kirsten, her husband Matt and Pickle returned to the hospital because her daughter was unwell, but the family had to separate as a receptionist told them dogs were not allowed.
The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to refuse access to a disabled person accompanied by an assistance dog except in the most exceptional circumstances.
Kirsten, who lives in Selby, was forced to sit in the car with Pickle until the early hours of the morning while her husband stayed in the emergency department with their daughter.
Speaking at a board meeting of the York and Scarborough Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Kirsten said: “I was crying my eyes out in the car being isolated and having cuddles with my hearing dog because I was devastated that I couldn’t be there for my daughter.
“It’s just heartbreaking because I needed to be with her.
“I don’t have to put [Pickle] through that because she’s a set of ears for me. She’s worth a million of anybody to me, but so is my daughter, and nobody should be made to choose between getting treatment or your service dog.”
‘I rely on her’
Kirsten suffers from Ménière’s disease and completely lost her hearing in both ears in 2016. She adopted trained hearing dog Pickle in 2018.
“I rely on her 24 hours a day – she’s been there for me and saved my life,” Kirsten said.
The family hit the headlines last year after Pickle woke Kirsten up to alert her that smoke was filling their house during a fire next door.
Kirsten said she’d had no problems with Pickle at the hospital in her home city of Birmingham, but knew of friends with service dogs who had had similar experiences at York.
She has had negative experiences in several departments and said she felt there was a cultural issue across the hospital. Some staff have also refused to remove their masks to speak to Kirsten despite the fact she needs to be able to lip read.
Chairman Alan Downey apologised on behalf of the trust, adding: “Saying sorry is meaningless if it’s not followed up by meaningful change.”
Signs have since been put up in the emergency department and the hospital will be communicating with its staff about the rules around service dogs.
Mr Downey said: “We’ve had a number of patient stories over the last few months with a common theme, which is that it’s not specifically about dogs or about a particular disability, but the common theme is about being kind and being caring and looking after our patients in the right way – and I think that is something as a board we will want to reflect on.”