ALL future development of NHS hospital facilities across England should provide at least 50% single en-suite rooms, Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said this week.
Announcing that mixed-sex accommodation breaches hit an all-time low last month, Lansley said he was determined to improve privacy and dignity for patients, as well as stamp out healthcare associated infections such as MRSA and C.difficile.
According to figures from the Department of Health, compared to December 2010, when hospitals reported that 11,802 patients stayed in mixed-sex accommodation, last month there were 1,226 breaches - a drop of nearly 90%.
New fines introduced in the spring mean that trusts are now forced to pay £250 for every instance where an inpatient is treated on a ward with members of the opposite sex. That equates to a monthly bill for July of £306,500 across England.
The NHS has done a fantastic job getting to grips with this, but we remain determined to put an end to mixed-sex accommodation where it is not clinically justified
And Lansley said the Government was determined that the practice would be stamped out altogether and that any new developments - whether new build or refurbishment - would provide modern facilities with single, en-suite rooms.
"Single-sex accommodation is what people can now expect," he added. "By introducing greater transparency, this government has driven down breaches by 90% in eight months. There are now 10,000 fewer people suffering the indignity of staying on mixed-sex wards. What's more, 69% of acute trusts have reported no breaches at all.
"The NHS has done a fantastic job getting to grips with this, but we remain determined to put an end to mixed-sex accommodation where it is not clinically justified. This is why hospitals face fines of £250 for every breach, which can then be re-invested back into patient care."
In line with the new guidance, the Government has recently approved five hospital schemes that will meet, or exceed, the 50% baseline. They are The Royal Liverpool Hospital and North Cumbria hospital, where 100% of rooms will be single occupancy; the Lister Hospital in Stevenage and The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, where 60% of rooms will be single occupancy; and Epsom and St Helier hospitals, which will have 50% single room availability.
According to the latest breach statistics, the strategic health authority with the most reported incidences was NHS London, with a total of 346. NHS West Kent and NHS Tower Hamlets were the worst-offending primary care trusts, with 163 and 121 breaches respectively. At provider level, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust reported 205 breaches, closely followed by Barts and the London NHS Trust with 192. The Royal London Hospital and Kent and Sussex Hospital had the worst individual records, with 192 and 145 breaches respectively.
In all, 278 organisations submitted data, made up of all 73 acute non-foundation trusts; all 94 acute foundation trusts; 43 community, PCT and care trust providers; 53 mental health trusts; and 15 independent sector providers.
While the trust is committed to providing single-sex accommodation for all patients wherever possible, this is currently not always possible due to the restrictions of our awkwardly-configured existing hospital facilities
A report by Barts and The London NHS Trust states that the problems have arisen due to the restrictive layout of the buildings at Barts, meaning reconfiguration is almost impossible. It states: "While the trust is committed to providing single-sex accommodation for all patients wherever possible, this is currently not always possible due to the restrictions of our awkwardly-configured existing hospital facilities. The trust has, therefore, had to report a level of non-compliance with these standards due to the layout of areas such as CDU, acute renal dialysis, day surgery and the East Wing at Barts.
"We are committed to being compliant by April 2012 for when we will move over to the new hospital at The Royal London. In the meantime, we will continue to report any shortcomings in our provision of same-sex accommodation. In addition, we will also set up an audit mechanism to make sure we do not misclassify any of our reports."
Similarly, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust has claimed its non-compliance will end when its new 100% single-room hospital opens at Pembury next month. In a statement it says: "The trust is sorry to state it is currently unable to confirm 100% compliance with the Government's requirement to eliminate mixed-sex accommodation. The trust has been able to achieve this for most patients, but owing to the age of its facilities it cannot fully achieve this ideal until after the new hospital is opened in September and services are reconfigured accordingly."