NHS mixed-sex accommodation breaches at all-time low

Hospitals enhance privacy and dignity for patients

Trusts are fined for every patient treated in a mixed-sex environment

NHS hospitals across England have reported the lowest ever number of mixed-sex accommodation breaches since reporting started 16 months ago.

The number of patients who share sleeping or bathroom facilities with members of the opposite sex has dropped from 11,802 in December 2010 to 461 in March this year.

Reporting was made mandatory by the Department of Health as part of a drive to enhance patients’ privacy and dignity. Under the scheme, NHS trusts or private health organisations treating NHS patients are fined £250 for every person not treated in a same-sex environment. This means that on a four-bed ward, even if there are three men and one woman, the trust has to pay the fine four times over. For March, this means fines of £115,250, the lowest level yet.

All reported breaches were in acute hospitals, with 38% reporting at least one incident. The only strategic health authority to report no breaches at all was NHS North East, with the most breaches at NHS London with 161, and NHS North West with 86.

The provider with the most reported incidents was Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, with 41 reports - 34 at St Helier Hospital and seven at Epsom Hospital; University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust with 30 breaches, all at Bristol Royal Infirmary; and South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust; Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust; and St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust all with 26 reports, at Warwick Hospital, Queens Hospital and St George’s Hospital respectively.

NHS Cumbria, NHS Warwickshire, NHS Surrey and NHS West Sussex were the worst-offending primary care trusts.

A spokesman at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust said that while it complied in its ward environments, there were challenges in the intensive care and high dependency units. A statement said: “We have the necessary facilities, resources and culture to ensure that patients who are admitted to our hospitals will only share the room where they sleep with members of the same sex, and same-sex toilets and bathrooms will be close to their bed area. Sharing with members of the opposite sex should only happen in exceptional circumstances based on clinical need, for example where patients need specialist equipment such as in our intensive care, high dependency or coronary care units.”

On the issue of the high dependency and intensive care breaches, the statement added: “We are currently carefully monitoring the impact of changes we have made, including improving the way we discharge patients from these areas. We are now auditing the impact this has on our patients, and early results show that patients do not feel their privacy and dignity are compromised. We will of course include any comments we receive from patients into our privacy and dignity action plan.”

A policy statement from University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust says: “Every patient has the right to receive high-quality care that is safe, effective and respects their privacy and dignity. The trust is committed to providing every patient with same sex-accommodation, because it helps to safeguard their privacy and dignity when they are often at their most vulnerable.

“In all future developments a high standard of privacy and dignity, including same-sex accommodation is included as a standard. The trust will constantly monitor how well we are delivering care in same sex accommodation and will continue to make ongoing improvements.”

For full details of the breaches, click here

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