Concern as Lancashire hospitals flout mixed-sex wards ban

Hospital bosses say the figures are not a true reflection of what is happeningHospital bosses say the figures are not a true reflection of what is happening
Hospital bosses say the figures are not a true reflection of what is happening | jpimedia
Patients have been regularly placed on mixed-sex wards at the Royal Preston and Chorley Hospitals - despite an NHS-wide ban.

The Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTHTR) recorded 841 breaches of mixed-sex accommodation rules during 2019, NHS figures show.

Think tank Nuffield Trust said rising demand is leaving staff with no choice but to break the rules .

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But the Trust said the figures reflect a backlog of moving patients out of Critical Care - which is allowed to be mixed - and onto acute and general wards within the four-hour time slot available.

Karen Partington, chief executive at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said “We are aware that our mixed sex ward breach may look high for December, but these patients are not on our general and acute wards as we do not mix these.

“It involves patients who are mainly in Critical Care which are allowed to be mixed wards due to the nature of them being Intensive Care units.

“When a patient no longer needs a critical care bed but needs to be moved to a ward bed we only have four hours to move these patients before they are declared a mixed sex breach. At times due to peak flow and bed capacity especially during December when the NHS as a whole is busy in all departments it can be more challenging to meet the deadline.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The expansion of our critical care unit that is taking place at the moment with completion due in January will help patient flow going forward”

Trusts are supposed to be fined £250 per patient per breach, meaning the Trust faced fines of £210,250 over the course of the year. But enforcement of the fines is left to individual Clinical Commissioning Groups, who can waive them.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of health think tank the Nuffield Trust, said increasingly busy hospitals were struggling to stick to the rules.

He said: “These rises in mixed sex accommodation breaches, which will be upsetting for patients, haven’t happened because the NHS has just stopped trying.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Rather, we’re now seeing a very high proportion of beds full nearly all the time, leaving staff no choice sometimes but to put people onto a ward for the wrong sex or no ward at all.

“Unfortunately, there tends to be even less space available in winter, so pressure may still get worse – in previous years, breaches have peaked in January or February.”

The ban applies to sleeping accommodation, which includes any area where patients are admitted on beds or trolleys even if they do not stay overnight.

It does not include instances where mixed accommodation is considered justified, such as in intensive care.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Lucy Watson, chair of the Patient’s Association charity, said failing to follow the rules could cause additional anxiety for people already worried about being in hospital.

“We are very concerned that so many people are still being placed in inappropriate hospital accommodation, many years after mixed-sex wards were supposedly abolished,” she said.

Patients deserve to be treated with dignity, and at a time when many will be feeling frail or vulnerable, it is vital that they feel some sense of privacy and safety.

“Patients shouldn’t find themselves in a bed next to a member of the opposite sex, particularly if they need to use a bedpan, or have intimate care.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

An NHS England spokesman said: “The vast majority of trusts have completely eliminated breaches, and at just 0.1 per cent of hospital stays they remain extremely rare in the context of the rising number of people who are admitted to hospital every month.

“But the ambition remains to keep the number of times that this happens to an absolute minimum, and the Government’s commitment to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 and invest in new and expanded beds and facilities will be crucial in achieving this over the coming years.”