Patients groups fear NHS cuts will have a knock-on effect on privacy and dignity issues after it was revealed that the number of people treated on mixed-sex wards rose slightly last month.
For the first time in 11 months of gathering data, there was a small increase in the number of patients whose sleeping accommodation or bathing and toileting facilities were shared by those of the opposite sex.
This is despite the introduction, earlier this year, of fines. Under the penalty 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.
Commenting on the increase, Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “Treating patients in mixed-sex accommodation compromises their dignity and causes additional stress at what is already a difficult and anxious time. For years, governments have said that clamping down on this is a priority, yet still it continues to happen. Now the Department of Health’s figures show a marked increase in the number of people staying in mixed-sex accommodation.
“It is clear that cuts are beginning to bite and hospitals are struggling to ensure that the care they provide is up to an acceptable standard. It is not enough to spout rhetoric about mixed-sex accommodation being unacceptable, the Department of Health needs to provide practical support to the trusts who continue to breach mixed-sex accommodation guidelines to stamp out this problem once and for all.”
The latest figures show that, in October, there were 1,244 reported breaches, compared with 1,079 in September. This equates to total fines of £311,000 against £273,000 the previous month.
Data was submitted by 272 organisations in total, made up of all 72 acute non-foundation trusts; all 95 acute foundation trusts; 31 community, PCT and care trust providers; 54 mental health trusts; and 20 independent sector organisations. Acute trusts accounted for 99% of all breaches and, for October, 68% of acute trusts reported no breaches at all.
As in September, the worst-affect strategic health authorities (SHAs) were NHS London with 482 breaches and NHS South East Coast with 335. Again, the trust with the poorest record was Barts and the London NHS Trust with 288 breaches, all but one at The Royal London Hospital. NHS Tower Hamlets was the PCT at the top of the table and NHS North East SHA was the only regional body to report no breaches.
Health Minister, Simon Burns, said: “The NHS has made significant improvements in tackling mixed-sex accommodation, down almost 90% in under a year, thanks to improved transparency. But, despite this overall improvement, nobody should have to suffer the indignity of mixed-sex accommodation. Every unjustified breach is one too many.”
Barts and The London NHS Trust says it hopes to be compliant by April after it moves to a new hospital site.