Morecambe Bay hospitals trust breaks single-sex ward rule dozens of times

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A rule preventing patients of different sexes from sharing the same ward was breached dozens of times at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay over a six-month period, figures reveal.

The Patients Association said the violations are an "affront to patients' dignity".

Hospitals have been expected to eliminate mixed-sex wards – except in justified situations, such as in intensive care – since 2010.

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But NHS England figures show that between October and March, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) recorded 84 breaches of mixed-sex accommodation rules.

The Royal Lancaster Infirmary.The Royal Lancaster Infirmary.
The Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

This was compared to 138 breaches in the five months between October 2019 and February 2020 – the latest comparable period.

And in April 2021, a policy to fine trusts a blanket rate of £250 for each breach of the rules was dropped by the NHS.

The single-sex rules apply to sleeping accommodation, which includes any area where patients are admitted on beds or trolleys even if they do not stay overnight.

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Across England, 16,576 breaches were recorded between October and March – up from 12,947 between October 2019 and February 2020, and the highest number for the period since 2010-11.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, which campaigns on behalf of patients, said: "The figures for March are of great concern – 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."

She added that urgent Government investment in social care could help reduce the number of breaches by allowing more medically fit patients to be discharged.

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Jessica Morris, a fellow at independent health think tank the Nuffield Trust, said: "These situations will be distressing for patients, but staff are left with little choice.

“Breaches for mixed-sex accommodation were unfortunately already common across NHS trusts before the pandemic and are a symptom of hospitals running constantly close to capacity.

"The impact of Covid has seen performance against many targets slip further out of reach."

An NHS spokesman said: “The reported breaches illustrate the ongoing pressures on NHS providers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"NHS staff work hard to maintain our patients’ privacy, dignity and safety – and most trusts have eliminated breaches."