A woman recovering from an operation who was finding it hard to walk was told by a hospital to go and get herself a pair of crutches — from the local council dump.
Staff at the accident and emergency department at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry told the woman to go to the city’s recycling centre for the walking aids.
The woman duly obtained the crutches at Derry City Council's dump, but a complaint has since been lodged with the Patient and Client Council on the woman's behalf.
The incident exposed the problems caused by former patients not returning equipment to the hospital, and in some cases bringing it to the dump.
The woman, who did not want to be identified, contacted former Derry City councillor Billy Page at the Ballymagroarty Hazelbank Community Partnership.
Mr Page said it was disgraceful that anyone should be told to go to the dump for crutches.
He added that the fact that members of the public were not returning crutches to the Western Trust was also not acceptable.
He said: “No one should be told to go to the dump to get crutches, and for a member of the hospital staff to suggest this to anyone is a disgrace and I will lodge a complaint with the Patient and Client Council about it.
“This woman came to the centre and explained that because of difficulty she was having getting around after surgery, she went to the A&E department and asked if she could have some crutches, but was told there were none for her at the hospital, but if she really needed them then she should go to the dump.
“The woman did go to the dump at Brandywell where she did get crutches, and that in itself is another issue. Anyone who has been issued with crutches from the hospital should be responsible and return them once they are finished with them.
“It is as easy to take them to Altnagelvin as it would be to take them to the dump.”
No one from Altnagelvin was available for interview.
A Western Trust spokeswoman said any patient with an issue in relation to their treatment should raise it through the trust's comments and complaints system — the Patients' Advocate Office.
She added: “There is not a shortage of crutches at Altnagelvin or at its emergency department.”
While it is unclear just how many people failed to return crutches to the hospital, and instead leave them lying in attics or sheds, a Derry City Council spokeswoman confirmed that up to 100 pairs are taken out of its skips annually.
With crutches costing about £150, the Western Trust is losing thousands of pounds every year because people are not returning them.