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Breaches of single-sex hospital ward rules more than treble since pandemic

NHS England data shows the rule was broken almost 4,500 times in March.

NHS ward

The number of patients forced to sleep alongside the opposite sex on NHS wards has soared, new figures show.

In the six months to March – the most recent period for which there is official data – the rule preventing patients of different sexes from being treated on the same wards has been broken more than 25,000 times.

Hospitals broke the mixed-sex rule thousands of times in March alone, with a trebling of cases since before the pandemic, according to NHS figures analysed by the PA news agency’s RADAR service.

Despite the Government banning mixed-sex wards in 2010, NHS England data shows the rule was broken almost 4,500 times (4,475) in March – the second-highest single month since 2011/12 and more than triple the 1,400 instances recorded in March 2019.

NHS organisations regularly submit data on the number of occurrences of “unjustified mixing” in relation to their sleeping accommodation.

Recording of the breaches was suspended from March 2020 to September 2021 due to the pandemic.

When NHS trusts were asked to go back to logging breaches in October 2021, there were 2,300 occurrences, while every month since this past December has topped 4,000, including a record 4,938 in January.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “Mixed-sex wards are an affront to patients’ dignity.

“No patient wants to receive intimate, personal care on a mixed-sex ward, and it’s the sort of stress that doesn’t promote recovery.”

When mixed-sex wards were banned, NHS trusts faced a £250 fine for every breach, barring certain exceptions.

But the rule was suspended during the coronavirus pandemic as hospitals faced increased bed occupancy pressures.

Data on finished episodes shows that around 2.6 rule breaches occurred per 1,000 treatments in March – almost treble the 0.9 per 1,000 in March 2019.

Every month since October has had a breach rate north of two. February 2020 is the only month to top that figure since March 2011.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have been clear patients should not have to share sleeping accommodation with others of the opposite sex and should have access to segregated bathroom and toilet facilities, and we expect NHS trusts to comply with these measures.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “Offering single-sex accommodation is a requirement under the NHS Standard Contract.

“Trusts across the country are taking action to reduce or eliminate unjustified breaches, which remain rare.”

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