Lizzy Dening

Time to end mixed sex hospital wards?

Lizzy Dening
Time to end mixed sex hospital wards?

It’s a time when we are at our most vulnerable, lying in a hospital bed and feeling poorly. But recent figures from NHS England have now revealed that as many as 9,000 hospital patients in the last year have the added stress of having to stay in a mixed-sex ward, something many have described as being ‘undignified’ and ‘dehumanising’. 

The latest statistics show almost 1,000 patients a month have had to sleep on the same ward as members of the opposite sex in the past year – a number that has almost trebled in two years. 

This is all despite hospitals having to produce monthly reports and paying £250 for every breach of the NHS guidelines that say ‘all providers of NHS-funded care are expected to eliminate mixed accommodation except where it is in the best overall interest of the patient or reflects their personal choice’. This does not apply to patients who need highly specialised care in intensive and critical care units. 

Experts say mixed-sex wards are humiliating and frightening for patients, especially for the elderly or those from certain religions. 

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “All patients deserve to be treated with dignity and respect while in the care of the NHS and men and women shouldn’t be forced to share hospital accommodation.”

Privacy is a major issue for mixed wards with recent investigations revealing that patients worry about wearing hospital gowns or using commodes. In fact, a recent patient-led study of non-clinical NHS care found that scores around opinions on ‘privacy, dignity and wellbeing’ have decreased by four per cent since 2014. 

Sadly, intrusion, leering, or worse, was also a big concern, the extreme end of which was portrayed on controversial Channel 4 documentary as far back as 2009. Today, the problem still hasn’t been solved and patients continue to suffer intrusion into their privacy.

Obviously, no hospital wants its patients to be forced onto mixed wards, with the majority of health professionals agreeing it’s a bad idea. But given that the NHS is facing squeezed budgets and an unprecedented lack of beds, maybe this practice is something we’ll have to accept if we want to continue to be treated for free? After all, a bed is a bed. 
How ever you feel about it, the issue of mixed wards looks set to only escalate if nothing is done about it. 

But this is a conversation that’s been buzzing around Parliament for many years. Former Tory Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley first promised to end mixed-sex wards back in 1994. That promise wasn’t kept, but it was repeated every couple of years by other politicians, including Tony Blair who said mixed wards “cause indignity [and] upset people”. 

In 2010, the-then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley swore such wards would be axed by the end of the year. Sadly, that never happened and when the Conservatives came into power last year, they dropped their election pledge to end the practice. 

Whether real change will ever come to pass, we’ll have to wait and see. 

  • By Katharine Wootton
  • For more health news and views, pick up the latest copy of Yours magazine