Thousands of patients still forced to stay in mixed sex wards breaking labour’s promise

Tens of thousands of hospital patients were forced to be in mixed sex wards last year despite Labour promises that men and women would be separated, new figures suggest.
Thousands of patients still forced to stay in mixed sex wards breaking labour's promiseThe announcement came as the new coalition government revealed that men and women will no longer have to share facilities in English hospitals.

More than eight thousand breaches of Labour’s pledge to “virtually eliminate” mixed wards were reported in just half of England’s Strategic Health Authorities in the first quarter of this year, new figures show.

If the same level existed across the rest of the country it would mean there were more than 16,000 breaches in three months, equating to 64,000 cases a year.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, announced yesterday that the “indignity” of men and women sharing accommodation would be abolished, almost 15 years after Tony Blair made the same promise.

But men and women may still have to share wards, provided the hospital ensures that male and female patients sleep in separate areas and have their own washing facilities.

Labour committed in two manifestos to provide separate accommodation for men and women, except where it was in the interests of the patient not to do so.

They later decided to divide wards into same-sex “bays”, meaning same-sex accommodation could include men and women sleeping in separate partitions of the same ward.

But the new figures reveal that one in ten patients is still admitted to a mixed ward, while a third have to share bathrooms with members of the opposite sex.

The information suggests data is not being recorded consistently across the country and NHS organisations are continuing to place patients in mixed sex accommodation for “operational reasons”, the government claimed.

Under new steps announced by Mr Lansley, NHS organisations can be held accountable for failing to guarantee same-sex accommodation where there is no clinical justification.

From next January, any breaches of the guarantee will be reported regularly and commissioners will sanction NHS bodies which admit failing to meet the pledge.

For the first time the reports will be made publicly available, meaning patients receiving elective treatment can choose to avoid the worst-performing hospitals.

Mr Lansley told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “It should be more than an expectation, it should be a requirement that patients who are admitted should be admitted to single-sex accommodation.

“Patients should be in single-sex accommodation, meaning that all of their period that they are admitted they should be in a bed or a bay which only consists of people of the same sex.

“And they should be able to come and go, for example to all their washing and toilet facilities, without having to pass through a part of the ward or another ward where there might be people of a different sex… so to that extent they would have the kind of privacy and dignity people have a right to expect.”

He added: “Patients should not suffer the indignity of being cared for in mixed sex accommodation. I am determined to put an end to this practice, where it is not clinically justified.

“In the future, NHS organisations will have clear standards, spelling out when they should report a breach. Where NHS organisations fail to meet this standard, we will let the public know they have failed and we will strengthen the fines which may apply.”

Chief Nursing Officer Christine Beasley added: “Protecting the privacy and dignity of patients by eliminating mixed sex accommodation must be a priority for the NHS.

“Driving this change will be the publishing of statistics on mixed sex accommodation breaches by NHS trusts. This measure will allow patients to make better informed decisions about their care.”


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