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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 09:08 GMT
Row over mixed-sex hospital wards
Elderly patient
Many people are uneasy about mixed sex wards
The government has been accused of failing to meet a promise to scrap mixed-sex wards in NHS hospitals.

The Department of Health said its targets had been achieved, and 99% of trusts are providing single sex accommodation.

But patients groups said they were getting an increasing number of calls from people who think they have been in mixed-sex wards.

There appears to be confusion about the definition of the term.

Katherine Murphy, from the Patients Association, said there had been 25-30 calls in the last month to the charity's helpline, mostly from elderly patients, who had been nursed on mixed-sex wards.

Andrew Lansley said it was not acceptable to claim that partitioned single-sex bays on mixed-sex wards were doing the job.

"If you can be seen by patients of another sex, and they are coming and going past your bed in order to go to the toilet facilities you may not think you have the privacy you want."

The government pledged to scrap mixed-sex wards when it came to power in 1997.

More to do

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said most trusts offered single-sex wards, but said more could be done.

Most wards in most hospitals do now provide single-sex accommodation and single-sex bathrooms
Patricia Hewitt
Health Secretary

She conceded that patients' experience did not seem to tally with reports on progress from hospitals.

And she said she had asked Strategic Health Authority bosses to carry out checks.

However, she said it was not feasible to expect hospitals to provide single sex facilities in an medical admissions unit, where doctors assess emergency cases before deciding what action to take.

She said that would increase the risk that a patient in dire need could be turned away, simply because they were the wrong sex.

"Most wards in most hospitals do now provide single-sex accommodation and single-sex bathrooms.

"But it is clearly not happening everywhere, and it cannot happen everywhere in those emergency situations, like medical assessment wards, because we cannot have a situation where you turn away a woman because you have only got a male bed left."

Mrs Hewitt also accepted that the use of partitioned areas on mixed-sex wards was "not good enough" - but increased patient choice would give people the chance to vote with their feet.

"We have eliminated most of the mixed-sex wards that used to exist, but there is still more to be done."

Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation which represents over 90% of NHS organisations, said: "Where mixed-sex wards do exist, they are often in older hospital buildings or to ensure that specialist care can be provided to groups of patients by hospital staff.

"However, hospitals go to great lengths to make sure that single-sex bays of four or five beds are provided within wards and that single-sex facilities, such as toilets and showers, are provided."

Have you been affected by mixed-sex hospital wards? Is enough emphasis placed on patient privacy?
Below is a selection of your comments

Mrs Hewitt's statement that 'increased patient choice would give people the chance to vote with their feet' reflects complete ignorance of the location of NHS hospitals. If I vote with my feet, I would need to travel 30 or 40 miles to neighbouring towns. In Cumbria one would have to travel 50 or 80 miles. Another choice is to go private, but for most of us that is an unaffordable option. Get real, Mrs Hewitt.
Ian, Oxford

Recently, having fractured my spine in an accident I was extremely distressed to be admitted to a mixed sex ward. Overworked nurses do not have time to check that curtains are properly pulled. I was stripped naked each day to be washed, completely unable to move and every day my named nurse was called away several times by senior staff requiring assistance. Often I was exposed to all and sundry till she returned because the curtains didn't meet. I hated every minute and actually discharged myself as soon as I was allowed to walk by myself.
Jenny, Canterbury, Britain

I am 25 and was admitted to hospital for two weeks in August. I had a private room, within a mixed ward and I have to say being in a mixed ward did lead to an increase in the loss of dignity, which one always feels in hospital. However, the mix of ages and illness in my ward was a larger problem. The elderly gentleman in the room next door, kept coming in to my room and at one point actually stole my hairbrush!
Karen, Oxford, UK

My mum is currently in a mixed sex psychiatric ward and to be honest I worry about her being in a weak and vulnerable position with other male psychiatric patients. I agree that this is the first place single sex wards should become compulsory.
Jo, London

I think it's the quality of care that matters. My son was in a mixed sex ward after major surgery last year and although not ideal I can't fault the care he received.
Theresa Crossley, Hornchurch, Essex

The first place they need to get rid of mixed-sex wards is in acute psychiatric units. It's unbelievable to me that people with acute conditions are put into mixed wards without 24hr monitoring.
S. Harding, London, UK

The ward that I work on as a nurse is mixed, but has single gender bays, and I can honestly say no-one has complained. We do not accept patients if there is no appropriate bed available, thus we do not have mixed bays. Those who do have issues with mixed gender wards, do they also have issues with being cared for by a nurse or doctor of the opposite gender?
John Collis, Loughborough, UK

I appreciate the need for mixed acute admissions units. However it was quite distressing for my 86 year old mother who was admitted with a heart problem to have the confused elderly man in the next bed constantly trying to climb into her bed! The staff were so busy they just didn't have the time to supervise this poor man. As for the comment about sex-discrimination and segregation - get real! These are people at their most vulnerable. In most situations mixed wards just simply don't work.
Jean, Bristol, UK

My mother was admitted to hospital earlier this year and the ward was mixed sex. Although she did not say anything I know this did distress her. Sadly she passed away the next day. Being elderly, I know she thought men and women should be in separate wards. I spent the day she died at the hospital and I was not too pleased by the fact that the man in the next bed was only partially dressed, thankfully we had the curtains around the bed closed. I think this is unacceptable and should be phased out
Veronica, Reading, UK

I was on a mixed sex ward in 2001 when having my knee replaced. I actually found it more interesting to have both sexes on the ward. Whenever you needed attention from the nurses there were curtains to give privacy. I am 67 now and would be quite happy to go on a mixed sex ward again.
Maureen Fullick, High Wycombe England

Having worked in a hospital, being involved with patient and bed allocation, I have to say that, considering the high bed occupancy levels (usually 92% in my hospital), it simply isn't realistic for Whitehall to make such promises. Nursing staff do their best to keep bays single sex, but when bays are mixed, it's usually because there is no space elsewhere.
Nathan, Eastbourne

If you are staying in hospital it is because you are in need of care. As long as you get that care that's all that matters. Couldn't that money be spent on something better?
Greig Aitken, Edinburgh

I have had several stays in hospital and been on both single and mixed sex wards. Whilst single sex wards are perfectly fine, I would rather be on a mixed sex ward. After all, we do not live in a single sex environment and I find a mixed sex ward more natural.
Kevin, Suffolk

Most wards I've seen have bays for men and women separately. It doesn't make much sense to have complete single sex wards. Unless the right amount of men and women fall ill simultaneously, will people be refused treatment or have it delayed because they're the wrong gender for the available bed? You can't expect the standards of private healthcare from a public healthcare system. We don't pay enough for that kind of extravagance.
Dave McKenzie, Canterbury, Kent

Unfortunately I had Pneumonia last year and had to endure mixed wards in the Bolton Royal Hospital. I could not get out of hospital fast enough and went home early to recuperate. Very off putting when you are ill!
Mavis Fairhurst, Bolton, Lancashire, UK

My father was in a mixed ward last year in the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead after a stroke. It was a general geriatric unit with a specialist stroke section, and he was there on and off for four months, in mixed-sex wards mostly. I think this is completely unacceptable and should be phased out immediately.
Ian Lush, London, Greater London

I was on a mixed ward when I was admitted to hospital as an emergency a month ago. I was too ill and drugged up to care whether the other patients in the ward were male or female, but I was glad to share a room with another woman and not a man. I'm not sure if I would change my mind if I were there for longer.
Jo, Cambridge, UK

I have been in partitioned wards more than once and I don't see what the problem is to be honest. I don't feel that being surrounded only by women makes it more private at all. The only way something can be private is if you are on your own. If you are surrounded by people it doesn't matter what sex they are. I thought people were against sex-discrimination and segregation these days?
Kath, Manchester

Patricia Hewitt explains mixed-sex wards policy

Mixed sex wards slow to go
22 Nov 01 |  Health

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