Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has announced his determined and robust plans to ensure that NHS organisations are accountable for managing their beds and facilities to eliminate mixed sex accommodation where there is no clinical justification. His commitment follows a similar pledge made by the incoming Secretary of State in 1997.

In an effort to ensure patient dignity is preserved, NHS organisations will have clear standards spelling out when they should report a breach. Patients and members of the public will be made aware of any breaches and fines against NHS organisations will be strengthened.

Mr Lansley’s commitment follows new data released by the Department of Health evidencing a failure to capture data consistently across the country. This data listed a number of breaches by NHS organisations of their commitment to “virtually eliminate” mixed sex accommodation. In the first quarter of 2010-11, NHS organisations reported 8,028 breaches where patients were accommodated in mixed sex wards without clinical justification. It appeared, from the data, that patients were being placed in mixed sex wards for operational reasons.

January 2011 will see the introduction of new measures to eliminate mixed sex wards. The measures will include the following:  

  • the elimination of mixed sex wards, except where it is clearly in the best interest of the patient, or reflects their personal choice;  
  • mixed sex occurrences should always be considered as exceptions rather than the norm and staff must always be able to provide clinical justification for any mixed sex occurrences;  
  • publication of data so that poor performing trusts have nowhere to hide;
  • “breach” will be defined consistently;  
  • each breach, whether clinically justified or not, will be reported;  
  • commissioners will apply sanctions to NHS organisations who declare a breach: it will be a matter for the commissioner to determine whether a breach is clinically unjustified; and  
  • reports will be made publicly available for the first time so that patients requiring elective care will be able to choose not to be treated at the worst performing organisations.

It remains to be seen whether these measures will achieve what the previous government failed to achieve in 13 years.

The DH announcement can be accessed here.