Census Reveals Wide Extent Of Mixed Sex Psychiatric War

Health inspectors will today publish conclusive evidence that the government’s claim to have ended the scandal of mixed-sex psychiatric wards in the NHS was false, or at best misleading.

In a census of all mental health establishments in England and Wales, the Healthcare Commission found 55% of inpatients have to share sleeping accommodation or bathrooms with members of the opposite sex.

 Last year ministers rejected a report from the National Patient Safety Agency that recorded at least 19 rapes of mental health patients in England, and more than 100 other improper sexual incidents in psychiatric units in the previous two years.

Lord Warner, then health minister, said the allegations of rape were unsubstantiated. He told peers in July that 99% of NHS trusts providing mental health services met “single-sex objectives” that were set out in 2000, requiring all mental health units to provide totally separate sleeping, toilet and bathing accommodation for men and women. Lord Warner said mixed sex wards were an exception that might apply to “a very small number of patients, when admitted as an emergency”.

But the census – conducted by the commission and government-funded mental health agencies – found only 45% of the 32,000 inpatients in NHS or private sector psychiatric wards on March 31 last year had the benefit of single-sex accommodation.

It defined this to mean segregated sleeping areas, with separate toilets and bathrooms for men and women, which members of each sex could reach without having to walk through an area occupied by members of the opposite sex. Mind, the mental health charity, said patients reported alarming levels of abuse, harassment and intimidation on mixed-sex wards.

Paul Farmer, chief executive, said: “It is quite staggering how bad the mixed sex wards situation is. The NHS is putting some of the most vulnerable people in some of the most threatening and unpleasant environments.”

Paul Jenkins, chief executive of Rethink, another mental health charity, called for categoric assurances from ministers that they will embark on a systematic programme to establish single-sex facilities.

The census also confirmed previous evidence that people from black and mixed black/white ethnic minorities were at least three times more likely to be admitted to a psychiatric ward than the average for the white British, Indian and Chinese groups.