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Large rat at Medway Maritime Hospital one of dying pensioner John Higgins' final visitors

By Lynn Cox

Pensioner John Higgins received a regular visitor as he lay dying in his hospital bed – a large rat.

But when the 82-year-old told his family, they thought it so unlikely they dismissed his comments as being the result of side-effects from his medication.

Then his son Robert Langstead realised his desperately-ill father was not seeing things, when the rodent scurried out again along a windowsill at Medway Maritime Hospital - and took its picture.

The large rat photographed by John Higgins' son Robert Langstead

Less than 12 hours later, his father had died - and now the family have spoken of their concerns over hygiene.

Mr Higgins, 82, a retired window cleaner, who lived in Orion Road, Rochester, had been admitted to Milton ward with a virus and his family had been told to expect the worst.

"We couldn't believe it when we went into the waiting room and saw the rat on the windowsill - my sister screamed..." - Robert Langstead

Mr Langstead, 50, said: "Dad was very ill and kept saying he could see rats in the light, but we just put that down to the strong drugs he had been put on.

"We couldn't believe it when we went into the waiting room and saw the rat on the windowsill - my sister screamed."

Mr Langstead, of Warren Wood Road, Rochester, reported the rat to nurses and to security staff.

He said: "It's disgusting a rat was inside the ward - dirty. The creatures could have crawled on him.

"Why do they leave all the bottom windows open when, if they opened the top windows, the rats probably wouldn't be able to get in?"

John Higgins, 82, who died at Medway Maritime Hospital

Mr Higgins, a grandfather of six, passed away the day after the rat was spotted.

He was on a the pathways to heaven scheme, used to assist the terminally-ill by keeping them comfortable in their final days.

When the hospital was shown the photo Mr Langstead took of the rat, a spokesman said there was a zero-tolerance approach to dealing with pests at the site.

When he heard the trust's response, Mr Langstead said: "Well they didn't report it that night.

"The nursing staff we told were just freaked out by the thought of a rat being on the ward.

"When we left, we told the security guard at the main entrance and he said he would report it the next morning, so their policy to act immediately to pest control is not working at all."

Pensioner John Higgins was regularly visited by a large rat as he lay dying in hospital

A hospital spokesman said: "Medway NHS Foundation Trust takes a zero-tolerance approach to pests.

"Any sighting is taken seriously and our pest control contractor is called onsite immediately to assess possible points of entry and compile a report of the areas affected, and the actions put in place for control and prevention.

"We would like to assure patients and visitors that all pest related issues are closely monitored and we have an effective internal system for reporting any sightings so that everything that should be done, is done."

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