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Mixed-sex hospital wards: An update

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Visiting the Royal Bolton Hospital in 2011

Last November I wrote of my concern that the use of mixed-sex hospital wards was on the rise. The practice had almost been eliminated but breaches of the regulations suddenly spiked over the last two years.

Last week I met with Jackie Bene, Chief Executive of the Royal Bolton Hospital, to discuss the issue and took a tour of the wards to speak with the staff on the wards.

My major concern was that I didn’t want to see a return to the situation we had ten years ago. Back then patients in most parts of the hospital were mixed routinely, this was very uncomfortable for some and sadly it also led to cases of sexual assault.

I’m very pleased to say that we have not taken that step backwards and the hospital staff are clearly putting the safety and dignity of patients first.

The mixed-sex breaches are mainly occurring in the Intensive Care Unit or Critical Care Unit. When patients first arrive in these parts of the hospital the guidelines do not apply as care tends to be delivered one-to-one and often the patients are not conscious.

The issue arises once a patient is ready to leave ICU or CCU. Once a doctor says they are fit enough to be moved into another part of the hospital there is a 24 hour window and then the guidelines come into effect.

As Accident & Emergency has been under such huge pressure, the hospital will sometimes choose to keep ICU/CCU patients where they are in order to admit more patients arriving from A&E.

Unfortunately, Bolton suffers more breaches under this arrangement than other hospitals as the layout of ICU and CCU is quite old fashioned. There’s no facility to separate patients. Other hospitals have side rooms available to both avoid this problem and to help prevent the spread of infection. I’m told that the Hospital have applied for funding to upgrade these facilities and I am happy to help them pursue this is any way that I can.

Whilst there I also took the opportunity to discuss the wider issues facing the NHS. I’ve written a few thoughts in a separate blog post, which you can find here.

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