Women’s Fears Over Mixed Hospital Wards

Thousands of patients in Ulster hospitals face the “acute embarrassment and discomfort” of being treated on mixed sex wards. Labour ministers were last night accused of failing to deliver a flagship health pledge in Ulster, after new figures revealed there are 231 mixed sex wards in the province’s hospitals.

Tony Blair’s government vowed to scrap mixed sex wards when it swept to power in 1997. Yet the figures, released in Parliament, reveal that the Royal Victoria Hospital alone has 31 mixed sex wards.

Belfast City has 21 wards where men and women are treated together, while there are 21 mixed wards at the Ulster. There are 17 mixed wards in Altnagelvin Hospital, 13 in Antrim Hospital and 12 in Craigavon Area Hospital.

Health minister Paul Goggins has said that many patients in mixed sex wards are cared for in “single sex bays”. However, Katherine Murphy, director of communications at the Patients Association, said: “The Government gets around it by saying they will have about four beds in the same single sex bay but they are still sharing communal facilities. It is not good enough. Women do feel very threatened and anxious. If you are going into hospital you do not want any additional anxiety.”

Tory Northern Ireland spokesman David Lidington said: “Yet again ministers promise reform but fail to deliver it. What these figures mean is acute embarrassment and discomfort. The last thing that patients want – particularly women – is to be in a mixed ward at a time when they are feeling particularly vulnerable. What makes this worse is that the government keeps promising that they are going to end this practise.”

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety insists that half of all new wards built in the next decade as part of a £2.9bn investment programme will be single bed ensuite rooms.

DHSSPS says the “vast majority” of patients in Northern Ireland are cared for in single sex accommodation – either wards or single-sex bays.

Mr Goggins said: “Many trusts stated that where a mixed sex ward was in operation, within such a ward, patients were cared for in single sex bays. Bays would only be mixed sex in exceptional circumstances such as intensive care unit/high dependency unit beds or to allow a patients to be admitted to a ward rather than wait on a trolley in accident and emergency.

“In such cases, patients would then be moved to a suitable bed, in either a single sex bed or single sex bay, as soon as practically possible.”