The government will announce that it is to end the “indignity” of mixed-sex hospital wards in England by the end of the year, it has been reported.
The Daily Telegraph said health secretary Andrew Lansley is to declare that men and women sharing wards is to be ended in all but accident and emergency and intensive care units by the end of the year.
The paper said he asked CNO Dame Christine Beasley to visit all hospital trusts that still have mixed-sex wards to see what they were doing to ensure that male and female patients did not have to share facilities.
Mr Lansley confirmed last night that he would be making a statement on the subject “shortly”, saying that getting rid of mixed-sex wards was in the best interests of patients.
“I have made clear repeatedly my deep frustration at the fact that mixed sex accommodation has not been eliminated from the NHS,” he said.
“Eliminating mixed sex accommodation is in patients’ best interests, and I made clear the priority I attach to it in the revised operating framework published in June. I will have more to say on this shortly.”
If he succeeds he will achieve a goal which eluded Labour ministers for over a decade.
Tony Blair first called for the abolition of mixed wards in 1996, when Labour was still in opposition, saying it should not be beyond “the collective wit” of ministers to achieve.
However two years ago, Lord Darzi, an eminent surgeon who was made a health minister by Gordon Brown, concluded the aim of providing single-sex wards across the NHS was an “aspiration that cannot be met”.
Patients’ groups welcomed the prospect that mixed-sex wards could finally be abolished, while at the same time questioning how it could be achieved at a time when public services were facing massive cutbacks.
Catherine Murphy, of the Patients’ Association, told The Daily Telegraph: “Given that each incoming secretary of state, and there have been a lot, and every new prime minister has made this same pledge since 1997, we will wait to see if this time it really is more than just rhetoric.
“At a time when we know that there are huge savings that have to be made in the health service, it is hard to see how hospitals are going to find the money for this.”