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‘Patients deserve to be treated with dignity’ - hospital breaches no mixed sex rule 120 times in a year

PUBLISHED: 19:00 19 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:27 21 February 2020

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn has received £610,000 worth of funding for a new digital prescription service. Photo: Ian Burt

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn has received £610,000 worth of funding for a new digital prescription service. Photo: Ian Burt

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Patients of opposite genders found themselves next to each other more than 100 times at a Norfolk hospital - despite it being a no mixed sex ward.

A pledge was made in 2010 by the coalition government to end most mixed sex wards.

In Norfolk two hospitals were found in breach with Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn recording 120 incidents last year.

Trusts are supposed to be fined £250 per patient each time they break the rules, which is left to individual clinical commissioning groups (CCG) to enforce.

This would mean the QEH would face fines of £30,000 over the course of the year.

Lucy Watson, chair of the Patient's Association charity, 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."

QEH chief nurse Libby McManus said: "Privacy and dignity is an important part of delivering high quality care to our patients. There are occasions when it is clinically appropriate to have male and female patients in the same physical area, such as in the Intensive Treatment Unit (ITU) or in very acute phases of illness. This is reflected in national guidance. On the rare occasions patients are cared for in a mixed sex environment, we ensure that their privacy and dignity is maintained at all times and this is evidenced by the QEH having zero complaints or concerns raised by patients and their families."

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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.

It does not include instances where mixed accommodation is considered justified, such as in intensive care.

A spokesman for the CCG group in Norfolk and Waveney says it no longer fines trusts but works to support them.

NHS England guidance, however, states they should have a "zero-tolerance" approach.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital recorded one breach last year, involving 10 people, which occurred in May 2019, and faced fines of £2,500.

A spokesman for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said: "We make every effort to safeguard the privacy and dignity of our patients. We had one breach in May 2019, over three hours, which affected 10 patients where some of those patients were waiting in a busy clinic for onward admission to a ward. Patients were clothed and curtains were put in place to protect privacy and dignity."

A leading health think tank says rising demand is leaving staff with no choice but to break the rules.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said: "These rises in mixed sex accommodation breaches, which will be upsetting for patients, haven't happened because the NHS has just stopped trying."

An NHS England spokesman said: "The vast majority of trusts have completely eliminated breaches, and at just 0.1pc of hospital stays they remain extremely rare in the context of the rising number of people who are admitted to hospital every month."


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