Nurses have been praised for being at the centre of successful efforts to eliminate mixed sex accommodation in hospitals.
But the government has been criticised for pulling back from its previous threat to fine trusts that did not meet the target, with the warning it “sends the wrong message” to the NHS over patient dignity.
Last week health secretary Andy Burnham announced that 95 per cent of trusts in England had “virtually eliminated” mixed sex accommodation by the 1 April deadline.
The Department of Health said the majority of the remaining 5 per cent of trusts had “action plans” in place to address the situation but refused to name the trusts.
Imperial College Healthcare Trust in London, which met the target, invested £10m over the last year to upgrade wards, bathrooms and toilets.
“We ran an extensive programme to adapt and reconfigure wards to achieve the mixed sex accommodation target. Nurses were involved at every stage, including the design of the building work and where to put partitions and additional doors to maintain patient privacy and dignity,” she said.
NHS South West chief nurse Liz Redfern said directors of nursing had shown “great leadership” in eliminating mixed sex accommodation across the region.
The South West achieved 99 per cent compliance with the target, with only the Royal United Hospital in Bath failing to declare that they had eliminated same sex accommodation across the whole trust.
A “robust” action plan has been put in place to support the trust in achieving the target, which will be monitored very closely by the strategic health authority, she said.
In January 2009 former health secretary Alan Johnson said that hospitals who failed to eliminate mixed sex accommodation by 1 April 2010 would face financial penalties.
But the Department of Health announced last week that trusts will escape the fine if they have an “action plan” in place to achieve the target.
Royal College of Nursing head of policy development and implementation Howard Catton said the government’s U-turn on fining trusts could “send out the wrong message” to the NHS.
“This is a fundamental part of people receiving dignified care,” he said. “By signalling that you are going to have a financial penalty if people don’t comply, and then stepping back from that, raises questions over the government’s commitment to the use of financial penalties to improve care,” he said.