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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 15:58 GMT
Mixed sex wards slow to go
Hospital ward
By the BBC's social affairs analyst Roger Wicks

Nearly one in four of England's health authorities will miss the government's target to abolish mixed sex wards, a survey for BBC Radio 4's PM programme has found.

Ninety health authorities were asked whether they would meet the government's target?
Yes - 55
No - 18
No comment - 4
Response total - 77
No response - 13
The Department of Health has said that 95% of health authorities should have no mixed sex wards by the end of 2002.

Seventy-seven of England's 90 health authorities responded to the survey.

Eighteen (23%) said they could not guarantee single-sex wards for patients by that date.

These health authorities cover the length and breadth of the country, urban and rural, rich and poor areas alike.

Forty-three of England's health authorities said they still have mixed sex wards - well over half of those who responded.

Opposition

There is opposition to mixed sex wards across the board.

From patients groups and those representing the elderly, the biggest users of the NHS, who speak of the indignity when patients share wards with members of the opposite sex.

From doctors and nurses who have to discuss highly sensitive details of patients' conditions and treatments.

And from the Prime Minister, who last year spoke of "money set aside specifically to get rid of the dirty corridors, the poor food, the mixed sex wards which demoralise patients and staff. "

Vast and unfriendly 'Nightingale' wards are seen by ministers as an example of an out-dated NHS that failed to put the patient first.

Beverely Malone, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said she was saddened by the results.

In particular, she described the acute difficulties and embarrassment caused when patients recovering from breast cancer and prostate cancer have beds close to members of the opposite sex.

Off target

She said: "This is a further example of Labour's delivery deficit.

"The research raises one of the issues that has much perplexed the government - how to ensure targets set by government are realised in reality on the ground."

Mike Stone from the Patients Association, was "appalled" that his organisation, which represents patients, is still waiting to see the end of mix sex wards.

A total of 120m was set aside to help hospitals upgrade their wards and toilets and there is a building programme going on in many of the health authorities surveyed.

Of the 18 who had admitted they cannot close their mixed wards seven are having brand new hospitals built which won't be completed in time."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Gillian Hargreaves
"The government is carrying out it's own research"
The BBC's Hazel Blears
"It is a very challenging target"
See also:

23 May 01 | Health
Nurses reject mixed ward defence
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