Monday, 16 August 2010

The end of mixed-sex wards? Yes please!

Following the report on the BBC today about the coalition governments pledge to end mixed sex wards I was invited to speak on BBC Three Counties radio.

The measures would mean patients sharing sleeping, bathroom and toilet facilities only with people of the same sex. This could be through single rooms or whole wards occupied by men or women only, or mixed wards in which men and women are separated in bays or rooms.
Using a curtain as a divider to split men and women on a ward would not count, however.

I applaud this move and feel it will improve the patients experiences. One of the main benchmarks for patient care concerns privacy and dignity and this is a major move towards this.

I once spent 24 hours on a mixed-sex ward and was dismayed to find that after a daytime nap, my bed clothes and nightie had moved so I was flashing a bare bottom to the man opposite me!

My late grandparents also suffered the loss of their dignity on several occasions for similar reasons and I also recall my Grandma saying how scared she was of a certain other male patient. He probably was harmless but nonetheless his very presence caused her anxiety and therefore for the rest of the family.

Staff I would assume are more pressured on mixed wards as not only can this stretch them further to be 'jack of all trades' but for added safety, privacy and dignity issues.

I am very pleased that the issue of curtains has been raised and that this is NOT enough often to have a decent level of privacy. Recently I was on a gynaecological ward and remember cringing as staff were carrying out intimate procedures on me whilst I could see the feet on the husband of the patient in the next bed to me, under the curtains!

I also feel that another MAJOR improvement for all patient experience would be to limit the number of visitors allowed at any time and also to shorten the visiting hours. They are both far too big. I remember prior to an operation being given a suppository and was literally on a commode the other side of a curtain whilst 8 visitors were at the bed next to me! Not pleasant for any of us! Another time I was very poorly and yet had to put up with literally 13 people around the bed next to me! The staff said they were powerless to prevent it.

Surely in this day and age when there are so many measures to control infection why do we allow crowds of people into hospital wards with all their germs? One of the best ways of recovery for any illness is rest so why, oh why do we inflict hours of futile conversations on people who just really need to sleep? At times as a patient you feel that visitors are literally stealing your air as the ward post-visiting can be so stuffy. And why do people assume that just because you are in hospital that they need to come and see you when you are at your very worst, when normally you may be lucky to get even a Christmas card from them?

As a patient I have always tried to take responsibility for my visitors too and like to feel that they have always spoken quietly and been respectful of others. Sadly not everyone else is as sensitive to needs of others and behave as if they were on a night out in a pub, with raucous laughter and conversation. 

I am not saying we should return to the strict times of old when even children weren't allowed to see their parents but surely we have gone too far into hospital visiting being a social activity for the masses?

I am aware that the cost issue has been used as a reason for this not being carried out. Surely if less people were treading through hospital, less cleaning would be needed so savings could be made that way! If visiting hours were shorter staff could concentrate on the needs of their patients rather than the visitors, making the nursing experience better for all concerned and improved recovery rates.

So yes please, bring on single-sexed wards but also tighter controls and policies around visiting.

Elaine Hanzak

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