Saturday, 2 February 2008

The scandal of mixed sex wards

Sir - Lord Darzi's assertion that our hospitals can only separate the sexes by converting or building all hospitals with separate rooms is absurd (report, January 28). Hospitals have had no difficulty in providing separate wards for men, women and children for hundreds of years.

The pressure to mix the sexes in the wards began in the 1970s when politicians mistakenly began to believe that most surgical, and many medical, illnesses could be treated with outpatient or short-stay procedures and so demanded that, in theirview "unnecessary" hospital beds, be closed to reduce costs. At the same time administrators, having been told to achieve a 100 per cent bed occupancy to become more efficient, also enforced the closure of wards. The result was a shortage of beds so that those needing admission were put into any bed available regardless of their sex or wishes.

If hospitals ran with the ideal average bed occupancy of 85 per cent, it would not only be possible to have single-sex wards, but also be able to cope with the periods of heavy demand and have the opportunity to clean and refurbish. All of which would reduce hospital-acquired infection.

Lord Darzi should stop listening to the Treasury and direct his efforts to ensuring that patients are placed in an environment that will aid their recovery not impede it. He should tell his Secretary of State to reopen the multitude of beds that his and previous governments have closed and so give space and time for all the staff of the NHS to do theirjob properly.

Prof Sir Norman Browse, Past President, Royal College of Surgeons, Alderney, Channel Islands

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