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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
Psychiatric care 'fails' women
Hospital ward
Mind wants tighter guidelines on mixed wards
Psychiatric patients in mixed sex wards are being subjected to sexual harassment and intimidation, it is claimed.

More than half of those taking part in a study for the mental health charity Mind had experienced sexual harassment, abuse and even rape.


The government's guidelines don't go far enough towards ensuring the safety and dignity of women and men

Richard Brook, Mind
The government plans to phase out mixed wards in 95% of health trusts by the end of 2002.

But Mind is dissatisfied with its progress and is pushing for tighter guidelines and tougher implementation of current policy on mixed wards.

Mind's survey of local groups representing people with mental health problems found:

  • 55% of respondents voiced concerns about the level of discomfort and intimidation experienced by women - and in some cases, men - on mixed wards
  • 18% reported serious abuse or assault, and there were three reports of rapes
  • Only 21% of respondents said single sex day areas were available and 38% reported mixed washing and toilet facilities.

Despite changes to regulations governing new hospitals, Mind fears overall conditions in existing psychiatric hospitals could remain largely unchanged for the foreseeable future.

The charity's chief executive Richard Brook said: "Mind has been actively campaigning on the issue of mixed sex hospital wards for the last decade.

Improvements

"Evidence gathered by Mind and other organisations shows that the vast majority of women in need of acute psychiatric care would prefer the choice of single sex services.

"We believe the government's guidelines don't go far enough towards ensuring the safety and dignity of women and men.

"We would like to see the government test the quality of its own reforms by carrying out an urgent audit of the opinions of service users."

The survey results were taken from a questionnaire sent to 600 local Mind groups and advocacy services across England and Wales.

Some of the improvements demanded by Mind include female patients' access to women-only areas during the day, and to toilets without having to pass through mixed areas.

Dr Anthony Zigmond, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said his organisation did not support mixed wards.

"I'm aware of some incidents ranging from the mild to the relatively serious," he said.

"We all agree there is a problem and the sooner it is resolved the better.

"But I hope that if there were specific incidences that people would bring them to the attention of the management of the respective trust."

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