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Dartford And Gravesham NHS Trust 'risking patients' dignity' by breaking rules banning mixed-sex wards

PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 June 2018

Darent Valley Hospital. Picture: KT

Darent Valley Hospital. Picture: KT

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Thousands of hospital patients in Dartford and Gravesham are being placed in mixed-sex wards, leading to hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of fines for the local NHS.

According to data from NHS England, the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust recorded 2,139 instances of ‘unjustified’ mixed-sex accommodation in the twelve months to April 2018, the worst result in the country.

Rules have been in place since 2011 to ensure that patients only have to sleep in single-sex accommodation, which campaigners say is vital for protecting patients’ dignity.

Hospital trusts that breach the rules by placing a patient in accommodation with the opposite sex face a £250 fine each time.

This means that the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust could have faced a bill of up to £534,750 over the 12 month period to April.

However, the total sum may have been less as the penalty fines were relaxed between January and February 2018 during the winter crisis.

Campaign group The Patients Association said it is “concerned” about increasing numbers of rule breaches.

Chair Lucy Watson said it was “hugely important” for trusts to fully commit to providing “appropriate care” to their patients.

“When people are admitted hospital they often feel very vulnerable,” she said.

“They are in a different environment to what they are used to, they may be seriously unwell, and many patients are frail and elderly.

“People don’t like to be seen in bed in general, especially while wearing a hospital gown.

“You may get elderly or confused people who get hot and throw their gowns off in their sleep.

“They are going to be much happier knowing that they did that in a room full of people of the same sex rather than the opposite.

“People need to feel that their privacy and dignity are being properly attended to.”

The single-sex accommodation rules cover any instance in which a patient is admitted and placed on a bed or trolley, even if they do not stay the night.

Over the 12 month period, the Dartford And Gravesham NHS Trust’s worst performance was in February 2018, when 582 patients were placed in mixed-sex wards.

The rate at which breaches were occurring in April 2018 - the most recent month for which data is available - was 9 per 1,000 patients.

This was higher than the national average of 1 per 1,000 patients for the same month.

Across the country, breaches of the rules - which cover any instance in which a patient is admitted and placed on a bed or trolley, even if they do not stay the night - are on the increase, more than doubling from 675 in April 2017 to 1,584 the following year.

Despite this national trend, more than half of all trusts in England recorded no breaches at all in the twelve months to April, while more than two thirds of mixed sex breaches last April occurred in the South East region alone.

The Patients Association said the regional imbalances showed some trusts had taken the issue more seriously than others.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The NHS was extremely busy over the winter period with added pressure from norovirus, flu and extreme weather, but despite this more than half of trusts have reported zero mixed sex accommodation breaches.

“The Government remains committed to ensuring the highest levels of patient dignity and improving patient experiences.”

A spokesman from the trust said: “We are continuing to experience high levels of bed occupancy throughout the hospital.

“We do our best to ensure that patients are placed in single sex accommodation, but when this is not possible the decision is based upon where there is a specialty bed that will best meet their clinical need.

“We always endeavour to maintain each patient’s privacy and dignity whilst they are in our care.

“We are focused on improving patient experience by significantly reducing the number of unjustified mixed sex accommodation breaches.

“We have agreed an action plan with our CCG and we have seen a significant improvement during the last few months.

“Our aim is to reduce the number of breaches to zero by October 2018. We are continually monitoring progress and holding weekly meetings with senior ward staff to review effectiveness.”

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