Mixed-sex accommodation breaches hit an all-time low as fines force hospitals to improve facilities

THE number of NHS patients being treated in mixed-sex environments continues to decline following the introduction of privacy and dignity fines.

Breach rate figures for August have now been published by the Department of Health, showing that over the month a total of 1,092 breaches were reported. This compares to 1,126 in July and 2,011 patients in May, which was the last month before the £250 fines came into force.

Under the system, trusts must pay the levy for every person treated in mixed-sex accommodation. This means that, on a six-bed ward, if one person is of a different sex to the other five patients, the organisation must pay the fine six times over. For August the fines amount to £273,000.

For the latest figures, details of breaches were received from all 72 acute non-foundation trusts in England; all 95 acute foundation trusts; 41 community, PCT and care trust providers; 53 mental health providers; and 15 independent sector providers.

Of the 167 acute trusts, 113 – or 68% - reported no breaches. However, acute trusts accounted for 99% of all reported failings overall.

Of the strategic health authorities, the worst offender was NHS London, with 361 reported breaches. NHS South East Coast was second with 275 reports.

The trust with the worst record was Barts and the London NHS Trust, with 242 breaches, all of which were reported at The Royal London Hospital. Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust was second with 163 breaches, 117 of which were at Kent and Sussex Hospital and the remaining at Maidstone District General Hospital. In third place was Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, with 65 breaches reported at the Royal Sussex Hospital.

At Barts and The London NHS Trust the problems have arisen due to the restrictive layout of the buildings, meaning reconfiguration of ward and toilet space is almost impossible. A report by the trust states: “While the trust is committed to providing single-sex accommodation for all patients wherever possible, this is currently not always possible due to the restrictions of our awkwardly-configured existing hospital facilities. The trust has, therefore, had to report a level of non-compliance with these standards due to the layout of areas such as CDU, acute renal dialysis, day surgery and the East Wing at Barts.

“We are committed to being compliant by April 2012 for when we will move over to the new hospital at The Royal London. In the meantime, we will continue to report any shortcomings in our provision of same-sex accommodation. In addition, we will also set up an audit mechanism to make sure we do not misclassify any of our reports.”

Similarly, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust has claimed its non-compliance will end within the next few weeks as the new 100% single-room hospital opens at Pembury.

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