Hospitals pledge on single sex wards

Victoria NichollsHospitals across the region last night pledged to comply with a landmark ruling on patient dignity as new rules came into force from today meaning all trust have to eliminate mixed-sex wards.Victoria Nicholls

Hospitals across the region last night pledged to comply with a landmark ruling on patient dignity as new rules came into force from today meaning all trust have to eliminate mixed-sex wards.

The four key hospitals in this region, as well as community hospitals and mental health trusts, say they have virtually got rid of all mixed sex wards.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston, Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King's Lynn and West Suffolk Hospital at Bury St Edmunds, have taken critical steps towards achieving same sex wards in recent months.

It comes as Health secretary Andy Burnham said: 'Today is the cut-off point for all trusts to confirm that they have virtually eliminated mixed-sex accommodation and we are confident that the vast majority of trusts will do so. This is a crucial part of building a people-centred NHS.'

However, both sexes can still be treated on the same ward in some cases, such as in intensive care or when patients need specialist care in a small group or urgent treatment.

Same-sex accommodation can be provided in same-sex wards where the whole ward is occupied by men or women only, single rooms and mixed wards where men and women are in separate bays or rooms. Using curtains to separate bays is not allowed under the rules.

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The controversial issue was considered yesterday by members of the Norfolk NHS Board who welcomed the changes and acknowledged the efforts by local hospital staff in preparing for the new rules.

Norfolk's NHS chief nurse, Maureen Carson, said: 'Patients have the right to same-sex accommodation. For patients who feel they are not receiving same-sex accommodation they should raise this with ward staff.'

Norfolk NHS Trust chairman Sheila Childerhouse said a huge amount of work had been done towards implementation of these new rules.

The Board was told that the N&N, QEH, community hospital care provided by Norfolk Community Health and Care and NHS mental health provided by the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust, had all worked hard to prepare for the new rules.

They have assured NHS Norfolk they are ready and have published a declaration of compliance on their websites.

Same sex accommodation is provided at the N&N and patients only sleep in areas with other patients of the same sex. They also have same sex toilets and bathrooms.

A spokesman said that sharing with the members of the opposite sex only happens by exception, based on clinical need, where patients need highly specialist care such as in the hospital's critical care complex.

Under the new rules, patients should not have to pass directly through opposite sex areas to reach their own facilities nor should they be able to look into opposite sex rooms. Men and women should not have to share mixed bathing and WC facilities, unless they need specialist equipment, such as hoists, or specialist baths.

NHS Norfolk has also worked closely with patients' champion organisation Norfolk Local Involvement (LINk).

Chairman Patrick Thompson said: 'This moves goes towards making the patient experience far more acceptable in providing dignity and respect in what can be at times very stressful'.

Research carried out by the NHS in preparation for same sex accommodation showed women, and elderly men in particular, were most likely to worry about being in mix-sex accommodation.

Some male patients also said they felt reluctant to talk openly and found it embarrassing to be in a mixed-sex setting, while other patients were strongly opposed to mixed-sex accommodation for cultural or religious reasons.

Patients in the Great Yarmouth and Waveney area have also been assured steps have been taken to comply with the regulations on same sex wards.

Trust spokeswoman Rebecca Driver said: 'At our public board meeting last week, we confirmed that all of our providers have been declared compliant with the same sex accommodation rules.'

Work has also been undertaken by the James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said Nick Coveney, director of nursing and patient services.

'Being treated with privacy and dignity is a key aspect of patient experience and together with our Primary Care Trust partners we have taken action to improve access to and the quality of our same-sex accommodation,' he said.

West Suffolk Hospital is compliant across the whole organisation with the exception of the day surgery unit, where there is an action plan in place to have single sex lists.

Nationally, the government says some 95% of trusts have virtually eliminated mixed sex and of the 5% of trusts who have yet to eradicate mixed-sex accommodation, most have action plans in place.

But Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: 'It's completely unacceptable that one in 20 trusts has failed to meet a target that ministers must have thought was entirely achievable.'

Patients Association director Katherine Murphy, said: "Whilst we welcome the progress, we are completely astounded that some trusts are still not compliant.'

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