Thousands of NHS patients still facing ordeal of mixed-sex wards - ~Independent
"Hospital patients are suffering the indignity and embarrassment of being cared for on mixed-sex wards - a decade after the Government pledged to abolish the practice. Almost one in five NHS trusts is continuing to treat patients admitted for routine treatment alongside members of the opposite sex in breach of government rules.
An inquiry by the Department of Health into the use of mixed-sex wards, to be published tomorrow, has found 31 NHS trusts out of 172 has failed to eliminate them.
Despite government pledges in the 1997 and 2001 Labour manifestos to phase out mixed-sex wards, the finding implies that thousands of male and female patients are still being cared for together, compromising their dignity and adding to the stress of their illness. Tony Blair said in a speech in 1996, as Leader of the Opposition, that it could not be "beyond the wit of government and health administrators" to eliminate mixed-sex wards.
The outcome of the inquiry, launched last December, is an embarrassment to Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, who has defended the NHS's record after being assured by NHS managers that 99 per cent of hospital trusts had abolished mixed-sex wards.
She ordered the inquiry after being forced on to the defensive last year by The Independent columnist Janet Street Porter whose account of the death of her sister, Patricia Balsom, from cancer provoked a public outcry.
Ms Balsom wrote a diary, published in The Independent last November, explaining in harrowing detail how her final days were blighted by the indignity of being cared for an a mixed-sex ward and Ms Street Porter described how she had been inundated with messages from people appalled that her sister could be treated so shabbily.
Callers besieged radio and television stations and charities including the Patients Association to give distressing accounts of stays in mixed-sex accommodation. One caller to The Independent, Janet Hollis of Stansted, Essex, described visiting her mother, aged 96, who died in Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge. "Having men wandering round in a state of undress is not what you hope to see. When you are in hospital, you are at your lowest ebb. You need privacy to protect your dignity."
Ms Hewitt ordered the chief executives of the 10 strategic health authorities in England to report back to her after it became plain the experience of patients did not tally with what health managers were telling her."
"The Patients Association said the finding of the inquiry confirmed its worst fears. Vanessa Bourne, chief executive, said: "It is extraordinary because it shows Patricia Hewitt was not being told the truth by the NHS. She should wonder what else she is being hoodwinked over." "