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Saturday 26th May 2018

The mixed wards debacle

3rd February 2008

The Labour government, after a decade in power, has finally admitted it has failed to fulfill its promise to abolish mixed wards, despite "two specific manifesto pledges".


Health minister, Lord Darzi - who is tasked with conducting a review of the NHS - spoke in the House of Lords this week. He said that single-sex wards could only be possible if the entire health service was rebuilt.

His words "deserve a howl of national rage" which should increase in volume until MPs are forced to address the issue. Ten years of promises have turned into what Lord Darzi termed an "aspiration".

We believed Tony Blair when he stated that it should not be "beyond the wit of government" to abolish mixed wards. "Was there not a time, in living memory, when men and women were automatically accommodated separately?" Why has this idea become so difficult to achieve now?

Although we were told that things were progressing, the deadline of 2002 passed without single-sex wards being put in place. Patricia Hewitt, the former Health Secretary, agreed that curtains used to divide wards did not make them single-sex.

The government is proud to boast of the number of new hospitals around the country, but very few of them offer single-sex wards. Often, even if beds are in different rooms, toilets must still be shared.

Lord Darzi informed the Lords that wards are "based on disciplines and expertise of the staff". This means that they are based on the best interests of the staff, rather than the patients.

Today, one in five patients are still treated in mixed accommodation. A report published at the end of January showed that many people accommodated on mixed wards found it "frightening".

Lord Darzi said the only way to achieve single-sex wards was to rebuild "the whole of the NHS into single rooms". This is untrue. Mixed wards will only be scrapped when hospitals are forced by the government to implement them.


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