Mixed wards to be phased out in 3 years

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MIXED-SEX wards will be eliminated from the NHS within three years, Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, pledged yesterday. Announcing an extra pounds 40m next year to provide separate facilities for men and women, he said 95 per cent of health authorities would have no mixed-sex accommodation by 2002.

"When this Government was elected I gave a pledge that, as part of our concern to ensure quality, we would work towards the elimination of mixed- sex accommodation, and that is exactly what I am doing."

The money is part of the pounds 1.1bn for NHS capital projects announced in November, which was divided among health authorities yesterday. The biggest allocation, of pounds 14.2m, was for a new obstetrics development in Sheffield.

The NHS Confederation, which represents health authorities, said that by next month two-thirds of trusts would have complied with government objectives aimed at phasing out mixed-sex wards.

Tim Jones, policy director, said: "This money is welcome ... [but] the only problem may be that ending mixed-sex wards will result in lower occupancy rates and may mean that more beds are needed."

A National Consumer Council survey last year showed that sharing wards with the opposite sex was the biggest complaint among patients.

More than two-thirds of women and 40 per cent of men objected to the practice, which started in the 1970s.

Patients' groups welcomed the announcement but warned that a "massive political will" was needed to ensure the money was spent on ending the indignity of mixed-sex wards.

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