When the announcement came that the three acute mental health wards in the unit I worked were to become single-sex, there was uproar.
As is too often the case, it felt as if this change was being forced upon us with no discussion either with us, or our patients. We all debated the pros and cons but ultimately, because of the way the change was handled, the majority of staff were against it.
In hindsight, I can see strong rationale for single-sex wards. But rather than explaining this rationale to the frontline staff who were managing the change, we were simply told that it was necessary and to “pick a gender” we wanted to work with.
Reading this week’s practice article, The effect of single-sex wards in mental health, reminded me of how disruptive ward changes can be, to both staff and patients. But it also reminded me of the long-term gains of providing single-sex accommodation.
I can identify with many of the concerns raised during the ward move described in the article – particularly male staff worried about female patients making false accusations, and concerns that single-sex wards are not “reflective of real life”. Similar concerns were raised during the ward move I was involved in but, in the end, the anxiety surrounding the change was misplaced.
I stayed on the same ward, which became all-male. Patients were moved over one weekend and the ward staff who happened to be on duty were left to manage the logistics. After the initial upheaval, a calm descended over the ward, quickly followed by a feeling that very little had changed.
Perhaps the incident reports tell a different story, but while we were braced for increased levels of testosterone leading to more aggression, we found the opposite to be true. We had the same number of patients and the same variety of presentations. Gender seemed to have very little to do with the ward environment.
Speaking to my former colleagues now, there is a general consensus that the move was a good thing. But a bitterness remains over the timing and manner of its implementation. Although the change needed to be made, ward staff were not given opportunity to voice their concerns or to ask questions about the rationale. This led to frontline staff escalating concerns among themselves and worries being magnified.
Have you been involved in a change you feel was badly handled?