Page last updated at 22:59 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 23:59 UK

Mixed-sex NHS 'still a problem'

Elderly patient being treated
Ministers have been trying to rid the NHS of mixed-sex rooms

Two thirds of NHS trusts are failing to meet the government's guidelines of ensuring hospital patients are kept in single-sex accommodation, figures show.

The data, obtained by the Tories, also revealed one in seven English trusts used curtains or screens rather than walls to separate men and women.

Many more were unable to ensure patients did not pass members of the other sex when walking to the bathroom.

The government said single-sex rooms were a priority for the health service.

Ministers had originally pledged to end mixed-sex accommodation by 2002.

By 2006 ministers were claiming it had been achieved in 99% of cases, but patients surveys soon showed this to be untrue.

Patients are very clear - they hate mixed-sex wards and the hell they entail
Vanessa Bourne, of the Patients Association

A government report in 2007 accepted 15% of trusts still had not achieved it, a point reinforced by a Healthcare Commission survey of 76,000 patients last week.

But the Tory figures, compiled by asking 171 hospital trusts in England only a series of questions under the Freedom of Information Act, have unveiled a much wider problem.

Under the government's definition of mixed-sex accommodation, patients should be kept in bays divided at the very least by fixed full-height partitions.

Patients should also not be expected to walk past others of the opposite sex to go to washing or toilet facilities either.

Intensive care and A&E departments are not included for practical reasons.

The detailed definition was introduced amid much disagreement over what constituted mixed-sex accommodation.

The Tories got responses from 120 trusts, finding one in seven placed patients in bays without three solid walls. Some reported they used curtains or screens.

And 64% said patients in bays had to walk past areas occupied by the opposite sex to get to bathrooms.


In total, just 33% were able to show that they met the minimum standards.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Their endless promises to eliminate mixed sex accommodation have never been fulfilled and patients have been badly let down."

And Vanessa Bourne, of the Patients Association, said: "Patients have put up with more than 10 years of rhetoric, and no one is fooled by the playing with words that is going on.

"Patients are very clear - they hate mixed-sex wards and the hell they entail."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb added: "This is deeply upsetting to many patients and can put the more vulnerable at risk of abuse."

But a Department of Health spokesman said: "We have made this a top priority for the NHS and have asked every trust in England to set challenging local plans for improvement.

"The NHS should be in no doubt about how seriously we take this issue."

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