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Mixed wards rules broken more than 13,000 times as NHS breaches blamed on lack of beds

By Emer Scully

Thousands of hospital patients have been forced to sleep in mixed-sex wards despite a ban on them 12 years ago.

New figures reveal 13,178 logged incidents of this happening in England since last October.

Lack of available beds in the hard-pressed NHS is said to be the main cause.

But the practice must be stopped, says Patients Association chief Rachel Power, who branded it “an affront to patients’ dignity”.

She said: “Outside of emergency conditions the NHS must renew efforts to eliminate it.”

Men and women in the same wards were banned in 2010 – with certain exceptions – under a Mixed Sex Accommodation policy, carrying a £250 fine for every breach.

This was suspended when the pandemic hit and the NHS was overrun. But this February there were 2,796 breaches, with 2,837 in January.

Had penalties still been in place between October and February fines for hospitals would have hit £3.3million. Nuffield Trust’s deputy director of research Sarah Scobie said being put in the wrong sex ward was “distressing for patients”.

She added: “ Covid-19 has seen performance against many targets slip further out of reach. Waiting times for beds have risen dramatically, contributing to the challenge of avoiding breaches.”

The pandemic has forced some wards to become mixed out of necessity (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

But Dr Rayan Saghir of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary said mixed-sex bays are “very rare”. He added: “Hospital staff try their best to rearrange.

But if they’re struggling to find a bed and the patient needs admitting, what are you going to do?”

Maya Forstater of the Sex Matters campaign said the figures were “worrying – it can be uncomfortable for female patients to be faced with a male in a hospital gown that gapes open.”.

The Care Quality Commission said: “We expect trusts to consider the rights of all patients in their care.”

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