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Maintaining privacy and dignity in the flu pandemic

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The NHS is committed to providing all patients with same-sex accommodation (SSA), helping to safeguard their privacy and dignity when they are often at their most vulnerable.

The Operating Framework requires trusts to deliver meaningful and substantial reductions in the number of patients who report sharing sleeping or sanitary accommodation with members of the opposite sex. This means providing a same-sex sleeping area, bathroom and toilet facilities.

Pressures are likely to occur during the flu pandemic, but this does not negate the need to maintain high standards of privacy and dignity. Trusts should ensure that SSA principles are an integral part of emergency preparedness action plans.

Patients should be protected from unwanted exposure, including casual overlooking or overhearing, and they should not have to pass through opposite sex areas to reach their own facilities. Greater segregation should be provided where patients’ modesty may be compromised, especially where patients are unable to preserve
their own modesty.

The goal of SSA applies to all areas, regardless of the admission route (planned or unplanned), or the local pressure on beds.

Of course, patients will not be turned away simply because the ‘right’ bed is not available immediately. Rather, each patient should be assessed on his or her individual clinical needs and preferences.

If it is not clinically justified to care for members of the opposite sex together, every effort should be made to rectify the situation as soon as possible and patients, their family and/or their carers should be kept informed about how the situation is being resolved.

Any occurrence of mixing must be justifiable. If mixing does occur, staff should ensure patients feel comfortable, safe and free from unwanted attention.

The local NHS is best placed to make final decisions about what constitutes clinical justification of mixed sex accommodation for an individual patient. The DH has issued guidelines to help make these decisions.

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