Number of patients placed in mixed-sex wards at Shropshire hospitals more than treble in a year
The number of patients placed on banned mixed-sex wards at Shropshire's hospitals more than trebled in a year, new figures show.
The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) recorded 257 breaches of mixed-sex accommodation rules during 2019 – up from 84 in 2018.
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.
Trusts are supposed to be fined £250 per patient each time they break the rules, meaning SaTH faced fines of £64,250 last year.
Sara Biffen, deputy chief operating officer at SaTH, which runs Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Telford's Princess Royal Hospital, said the trust always tried to provide same sex accommodation, but due to high demand on services it wasn't always possible.
She said: "We consider every case individually, and balance the safety risks of our patients being in the right care environment against a mixed sex breach.
"If appropriate, we do this in conversation with our patients.
“Work is ongoing to ensure every effort is made to increase the availability of same sex accommodation.”
A spokesperson from Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin Clinical Commissioning Groups, said: “Between January and December 2019 SaTH recorded 257 mixed sex accommodation breaches which incurred a total penalty of £64,250.
“The penalty for mixed sex accommodation breaches is £250 per day."
A leading health think tank says rising demand is leaving staff with no choice but to break the rules – which can carry a hefty penalty.
December saw the number of breaches recorded across England hit the highest level for the same month since 2010, with more than 2,000 incidents – an increase of 20 per cent in one year.
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of health think tank the Nuffield Trust, said increasingly busy hospitals were struggling to stick to the rules.
He said: “These rises in mixed sex accommodation breaches, which will be upsetting for patients, haven’t happened because the NHS has just stopped trying.
"Rather, we’re now seeing a very high proportion of beds full nearly all the time, leaving staff no choice sometimes but to put people onto a ward for the wrong sex or no ward at all.
"Unfortunately, there tends to be even less space available in winter, so pressure may still get worse – in previous years, breaches have peaked in January or February.”
The ban does not include instances where mixed accommodation is considered justified, such as in intensive care.
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."
An NHS England spokesman said: “The vast majority of trusts have completely eliminated breaches, and at just 0.1 per cent of hospital stays they remain extremely rare in the context of the rising number 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, and the Government’s commitment to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 and invest in new and expanded beds and facilities will be crucial in achieving this over the coming years.”