The number of patients in mixed-sex wards last month was more than double that at the same point last year, prompting opposition parties to criticise ministers for dropping a pledge to eliminate them.
The latest figures on mixed sex accommodation breaches show that 908 patients stayed in mixed-sex wards in July 2017, compared to 450 in July 2016.
“This unprecedented failure on mixed sex wards has left thousands more patients humiliated”
In total, over 9,000 patients were put in a mixed sex ward over the last year, up 55% from the previous year, revealed the latest figures from NHS England.
They showed that, between August 2016 and July 2017, 9,004 patients stayed on mixed-sex wards, up 54.44% from 5,830 during the previous 12 months.
It represents the second highest number of breaches on record since January 2011. The highest figure recorded since January 2011 was 1,036 in January 2016 at the height of the winter crisis.
In addition, during the last three years alone, there has been a five-fold increase in breaches – up from a low of 168 in July 2014.
The issue, frequently highlighted in the national press, has been a long-standing problem for all the parties that have recently been in power.
“We’ve seen a scandalous rise in the number of patients being forced to stay in mixed-sex wards”
In 1997, the new Labour government promised to “work towards” the elimination of mixed-sex wards and its 2001 manifesto went further by saying they would be “abolished”.
Ending mixed sex wards was also a key pledge of former prime minister David Cameron’s Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition in 2010.
Meanwhile, the 2015 Conservative manifesto included a promise to “continue to eliminate mixed sex wards”, though it did not feature in the party’s 2017 manifesto.
But the new figures, published this week, were pounced on by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats to criticise the government on its record on the health service.
Labour health spokesman Justin Madders said: “This unprecedented failure on mixed sex wards has left thousands more patients humiliated and lacking the basic dignity and respect they expect when being treated in hospital.”
He added: “Shockingly, the Prime Minister even abandoned her party’s 2015 manifesto commitment to eliminate mixed sex accommodation breaches. Labour will end the unacceptable practice of mixed sex wards and ensure our health service receives the funding it urgently needs.”
generic mixed sex ward
The Liberal Democrats called on Ms May to recommit to ending mixed-sex hospital wards, after her party’s long-standing pledge to end the practice was dropped from its 2017 manifesto.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “Under Theresa May’s watch, we’ve seen a scandalous rise in the number of patients being forced to stay in mixed-sex wards.
“It’s an affront to basic human dignity,” he said. “It’s time to end the continued underfunding of the NHS and care that is putting intolerable pressure on services and leading to these sorts of failures.
“The Conservatives once pledged to end mixed-sex wards, now it seems they’ve given up,” he said. “The government must recommit to closing mixed-sex wards instead of turning a blind eye.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “All patients deserve to be treated with dignity and respect while in the care of the NHS, and men and women shouldn’t be forced to share hospital accommodation.
“Whilst this month has seen slight increases, since 2010 mixed-sex accommodation breaches are down from almost 12,000 a month to less than 1,000 in July this year,” she added.
National reporting of breaches commenced on 1 December 2010. However, since April 2011, it has been mandatory for all NHS providers to report mixed-sex accomodation data and flat-rate fines for breaches have been built into organisations’ contracts.