Mother and daughter living in hospital costing taxpayers £180,000

We shall not be moved: Mother and daughter who have been living in a hospital room for FIFTEEN months costing taxpayers £180,000 won’t return to ‘racist’ Grimsby despite being offered a new home

  • Ruth Kidane has rare degenerative disorder leaving her confined to a wheelchair
  • 21-year-old was initially admitted to Barnet Hospital with respiratory problems  
  • She and mother Mimi Tebeje live at hospital after claiming they were homeless

Ruth Kidane has become one of the most familiar faces at Barnet Hospital in North London. 

The 21-year-old, who has a rare, degenerative muscle-weakening disorder, is very happy here and loves the staff.

‘They’re brilliant,’ she said in a barely audible voice when we met this week.

Ruth is confined to a wheelchair and sometimes has difficulty breathing, eating, swallowing and even speaking, all of which she faces with a quiet resilience. 

Ruth Kidane (right), 21, who has a rare, degenerative muscle-weakening disorder, and mother Mimi Tebeje (left), 50, have been living at Barnet Hospital, London, for fifteen months after claiming they were homeless

It is impossible not to warm to Ruth, or fail to be moved by the devotion of her mother, Mimi Tebeje, 50, who is a constant presence at her side.

But behind the undeniable hardship of Ruth’s daily existence is another story. 

One which has inflamed public opinion, angered patient groups, and placed Ruth, her mother and Barnet Hospital at the centre of controversy.

The reason is this: for the past 15 months, Ruth and Mimi, who are originally from Ethiopia, have been living at the hospital. 

‘Living’ might seem like an odd word to use here, but actually it’s an accurate one.

Ruth, you see, is not a patient. Not really. A patient is someone who needs nursing care or medical treatment.

Ruth is disabled but she is not ill. Twice a week, for example, she attends college, where she is studying basic English and maths, and she enjoys days out with her mother, who sleeps next to her on a fold-up bed in an en-suite room on a general ward which should be used to treat the genuinely sick.

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How did this farcical situation come about? The simple answer is that Ruth was initially admitted to Barnet Hospital with respiratory problems after arriving in London in July last year and, within weeks, was declared fit to be discharged.

In normal circumstances, she would have been, of course. But Ruth and Mimi, who’d been living in Grimsby before coming to London, claimed they were homeless and had nowhere to go.

Hospitals can obtain possession orders to evict patients from a bed, but the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Barnet, has chosen not to issue legal proceedings.

So, more than a year on, Ruth and Mimi are still ‘guests’ at Barnet Hospital at the taxpayers’ expense — and will be, it seems, for the foreseeable future.

Their application for social housing in the borough has been turned down and they are refusing to return to Lincolnshire, where the council has offered them a new home.

The average daily cost of a hospital bed, according to the Department of Health, is about £400.  It means the cost, to date, of accommodating former chef Mimi Tebeje (pictured) and her daughter is about £180,000

Understandably, the case has caused public disquiet at a time when the beleaguered NHS is being stretched to the limit. 

The average daily cost of a hospital bed, according to the Department of Health, is about £400 — so £12,000 a month. 

It means the cost, to date, of accommodating Ruth is about £180,000.

More seriously, the debacle must have resulted in patients being denied a hospital bed.

Back in Grimsby, where the family were housed after being granted asylum from Ethiopia 16 years ago, some of those who know Mimi believe she is simply ‘playing the system’ to stay in London. 

Her elder daughter, who left Grimsby for the capital some years ago, is based in London and has just had a baby.

‘No, no, no,’ Mimi insists when the accusations of playing the system are put to her. TV stations and newspapers have all been trying, unsuccessfully, to interview Mimi since the scandal came to light earlier this week, but she chose to speak to the Mail about the events which have thrust both her and Ruth into the spotlight.

Ruth is confined to a wheelchair and sometimes has difficulty breathing, eating, swallowing and even speaking. She was initially admitted to Barnet Hospital with respiratory problems after arriving in London in July last year and, within weeks, was declared fit to be discharged

‘I understand why people are upset,’ she acknowledges. ‘It’s a ridiculous situation, I know. 

Many sick people are waiting for beds. I just don’t feel I have any choice. We don’t have anywhere to go and Ruth would be on the street if we were forced to leave.’

She admits her former home in Grimsby — a specially adapted bungalow on a new estate where there is a four-year waiting list for properties — was ‘very nice’ and she had ‘no complaints’ about the accommodation itself. 

They left, she says, only because they were subjected to racial abuse and harassment in the town.

Police, however, have informed the authorities in Barnet that there is ‘no current risk’ to Ruth and Mimi in Grimsby. 

This information is buried in correspondence about their predicament which Mimi hands to me during our meeting.

Yet, she is adamant they will never set foot in Grimsby again. 

‘There is no point,’ she says, ‘because we will be in the same position as before.’

The mother and daughter, who are originally from Ethiopia, are now at the centre of controversy

Whatever the truth, it cannot be right that a room at a front-line NHS hospital has become little more than a B&B. Ruth and Mimi receive three meals a day, but no medical treatment. A carer helps Mimi get Ruth in and out of bed.

Ruth’s sister visits regularly and does their washing. Post is delivered to their room. Most of their possessions are in storage in Grimsby. 

They have a few changes of clothes, and Ruth also has books for her coursework.

Admirably, she recently enrolled at nearby Barnet and Southgate College and Mimi accompanies her on the bus to and from the campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Their various excursions are recorded on social media.

‘Me and Mum went to town,’ Ruth revealed on Instagram. ‘We was trying to find a summer dress for Mum. She said let’s go to H&M so we went round. I found more I like.’

But Ruth, who hopes one day to work in fashion, barely uttered a word herself during an interview lasting several hours in a coffee shop near Barnet Hospital this week.

You would have to be hard-hearted indeed not to have any sympathy for this young woman, who was born with hereditary spastic paraparesis, and the burden her condition has placed on her mother.

It is also true that, after coming to Britain in 2003 and finally being granted asylum in 2008 — because Mimi said her family was no longer safe in Ethiopia — few countries could have done more to help them — something Mimi does not always seem to fully appreciate.

She simply can’t understand why they have not automatically been offered suitable accommodation in Barnet, even though they ‘have no connection’ with the borough. (A local connection is one of the requirements for being placed in social housing.)

Ruth was six and her sister 11 when they first arrived on these shores following the death of Mimi’s husband. 

She’d worked as a chef at a hotel in Addis Ababa, but gave up work to become Ruth’s full-time carer when they were housed in Grimsby.

Over the years, Mimi and her family lived in a succession of council properties and received benefits, she says, of around £1,400 a month, along with a van fitted with a wheelchair lift.

Ruth and Mimi receive three meals a day at the hospital and a carer helps Mimi get Ruth in and out of bed. Ruth’s sister visits regularly and does their washing

Her most recent property, on a development of mixed social and private housing, which they moved into at the beginning of last year, had a combined front room and kitchen area fitted with new beech units, a sofa with a disability hoist, double glazing, a rear garden surrounded by a tall wooden fence and a front lawn and parking bay.

Mimi showed off pictures of her garden on Facebook, prompting one friend to joke: ‘It looks lovely u should come and do my garden Mimi lol x.’

In reality, Mimi now says, she and Ruth were often too scared to go out because of the racial abuse they suffered. 

She said they were called names (‘black this or that. N*****. Go back home’) and were even spat at in the street.

‘Sometimes I used to stay awake at night just to hold Ruth’s hand as she slept,’ Mimi said. ‘I started to keep the curtains closed during the day.’

Humberside Police confirmed Mimi had made ‘a small number of claims regarding anti-social behaviour and alleged racial abuse’ but said ‘no suspects were identified’.

Her friends, neighbours and the disability support group she belonged to, however, had no inkling whatsoever of any harassment.

‘I’m a private person,’ Mimi explained. ‘I didn’t know who to trust and didn’t tell people at the carers’ group.’

The incident, she says, which convinced her to leave Grimsby, occurred in the early hours of July 8 last year, when a stone was thrown through the window of the French doors at the back of their home. 

It was the culmination, she claims, of a campaign of intimidation by a gang of white teenage boys who used to hurl stones and eggs at their bungalow.

Residents in the cul-de-sac say there was a problem with one group of youths, but they were not aware Mimi and Ruth were being targeted, or that their behaviour was racially motivated.

The following day, she took drastic action; Mimi threw some clothes in a suitcase and fled with Ruth on a train to King’s Cross.

Those who got to know Mimi will say she had made no secret that she wanted to move to London because her eldest daughter, who lived there, had just had a baby. Mimi denies this was the reason for their dramatic departure. 

They went to London, she said, because it was a ‘multicultural city’ where Ruth would be safe.

Once they arrived in King’s Cross, they got in a black cab and asked to be taken to the nearest hospital. 

Mimi explains that Ruth had been traumatised by what had happened in Grimsby. 

She couldn’t speak, she said, and had difficulty breathing.

‘We were taken to Barnet Hospital and we went straight to A&E,’ Mimi said. ‘Ruth was shocked and I told them she cannot answer, she cannot talk of anything.’

Ruth was admitted to the Medical Short Stay Unit (MSSU) — how ironic that name seems today — and Mimi slept beside her in a chair. After a month, Ruth was ready to be discharged from the unit. The Trust refused this week to answer the Mail’s questions about Ruth on the grounds of patient confidentiality.

Initially, Mimi says, staff tried to persuade her to put Ruth in care but her daughter began to cry at the prospect of being separated from her mother and pleaded: ‘Mummy, I don’t want to go anywhere without you.’

A decision was eventually made to transfer Ruth to a general ward on the top floor. She was assigned a social worker and a solicitor — a move almost guaranteed, in most circumstances, to prolong any problem.

Ruth was about to become possibly the most controversial example on record of what is known as ‘bed blocking’ — a term usually used to describe a delay in discharging elderly patients from hospital when there are difficulties in organising social care.

Research by several leading universities, including Oxford, found that up to 8,000 people die every year because of bed-blocking on NHS wards. A shortage of beds for patients who need urgent surgery often leads to the cancellation of operations.

Hospitals obtained 413 possession orders to remove patients from beds in 2016.

Rarely could there have been a more emotive case than that of Ruth Kidane. She remained on the general ward, in a bay of six beds, for the next 11 months before being moved to a side room where she and her mother are now.

How could they still be there?

Early on, they were given the keys to a temporary flat in Barnet, but the front door was too narrow for Ruth’s wheelchair and it was subsequently deemed unsuitable for Ruth’s disability needs.

Barnet eventually decided Mimi couldn’t be housed in the area anyway because she had made herself homeless in Grimsby.

Nor, initially, could she return to Grimsby even if she had wanted to. Mimi’s benefits were cut when she moved out of the town but she continued to be the registered tenant of her council property during the first six months. 

This meant she accrued debts over unpaid rent, making her ineligible for other council accommodation.

North East Lincolnshire Council, the authority which covers Grimsby, has now accepted ‘they have a legal duty to provide accommodation’ for Ruth and her mother and have a ‘suitable property available’, but, at the time of writing, neither Ruth nor Mimi had responded to their messages.

But we know they will not go back to Grimsby in any case.

Mimi, for her part, says she has passed all correspondence to her solicitor, who refused to help shed any light on proceedings. ‘It’s an ongoing matter so I’m not going to make any comments about the case,’ he told us.

Only a supreme optimist would think it’s going to stop being an ‘ongoing matter’ any time soon.

Additional reporting: Stephanie Condron


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