Wigan health chiefs risking fines for mixed-sex wards
Wigan health chiefs are risking fines by breaking rules banning mixed-sex wards, figures reveal.
NHS England guidance says trusts are expected to have a “zero-tolerance” approach towards mixed sex accommodation, which it says is essential for ensuring safety, privacy and dignity for patients.
In the 12 months to August, the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust recorded 16 breaches of the rules, according to NHS figures.
That was an increase on the 15 instances recorded in the previous 12-month period.
The figures do not include instances where mixed accommodation is considered justified, such as in intensive care.
NHS trusts are supposed to be fined £250 per patient each time they break the rules.
This would mean the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust faced fines of £4,000 over the course of the year.
However, NHS England said enforcement of the fines is left to individual Clinical Commissioning Groups, which plan and buy healthcare from trusts, who could potentially decide to waive them.
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.”
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.
Across England, more than 19,900 breaches were recorded over the same 12-month period, a 4.5% increase on the previous year.
Think tank the Nuffield Trust said the rise in recent years reflects a big increase in pressure on the system.
“This will obviously be difficult for patients, but the grim reality in an NHS with stretched capacity is that the alternative is sometimes being left on a trolley or having treatment delayed,” said deputy director of research, Dr Sarah Scobie.
The figures also revealed wide variations across England – almost three-quarters of trusts recorded no rule breaches last year, while almost half of the infractions in August were in the South East region alone.
The Patient’s Association said the regional differences were “cause for alarm”.
Ms Watson added: “It signals that some trusts are taking this issue more seriously than others, but it shouldn’t matter where in the country you are admitted to hospital – everyone has a right to be treated in an appropriate environment that allows them to keep their dignity”
A spokeswoman for NHS England said: “The vast majority of trusts have completely eliminated breaches and at an average of just 0.7% they remain extremely rare in the context of the hundreds of thousands 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.”
She added that CCGs reinvested all proceeds from fines back into patient care.
WWL didn’t respond to our request for a comment.