Mixed wards are a symptom of a larger problem in the NHS
Hitting the pockets of the managers would help to solve it, though
The issue of single-sex accommodation in the NHS has dogged ministers for years. Tony Blair called for the end to mixed-sex wards when in opposition in 1996 and the pledge to do so was made in 2001 and again in 2006 but action did not follow. Finally, under Gordon Brown, Lord Darzi, a surgeon and health minister at the time, admitted that it was an aspiration that could not be met. It is claimed that about one in 10 patients currently sleep in a mixed-sex ward at some point during their hospital stay, and up to one in three must share “unisex” bathrooms or lavatories.
The issue has not gone away and last week the Government announced that, from April 2011, all NHS hospitals will be expected to treat patients in single-sex areas. There are a few exceptions to this, such as accident and emergency departments and intensive care, but otherwise, hospitals failing to comply will face losing the payment they receive for treating the patient. No excuses will be accepted and hospitals will be forced to record any breach on a special software system and show how they intend to deal with the problem.
I think the coalition Government should be applauded for taking decisive action on the issue. It is without doubt something that the public cares about deeply and after 15 years of promising, it’s about time it was finally a reality. But should the ideal of single-sex wards really be a priority? I think that there are far more important issues to address in the NHS. In fact, the difficulty of eradicating mixed-sex wards is a symptom of a larger problem and it is this that we should be focusing on.
The main reason mixed wards have proved so hard to abolish is not the layout of the hospital, as is often claimed, but bed occupancy rates. In a survey conducted earlier this year by the Nursing Times, two thirds of nurses identified shortage of beds as the main reason for people being treated in mixed-sex wards during peak demand. This compared with 17 per cent who cited old buildings and poor layout as a factor.
In most hospitals in Britain, bed occupancy rates are close to 100 per cent – as opposed to about 85 per cent as it is in many European countries. When hospitals have to operate a one in/one out policy, there are bound to be difficulties in allocating patients to beds on the basis of their gender.
I have frequently seen exasperated bed managers admit a patient of the opposite gender to a single-sex ward because it was the only bed available at the time, thereby effectively turning it into a mixed-sex ward. That’s nothing to do with layout and everything to do with pressure on beds.
Bed occupancy rates have also been shown to be the single biggest factor in hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile. Stopping ward closures and actively increasing the number of beds across the NHS will result in a decrease in bed occupancy rates. This will have the effect of making the allocation of beds on the basis of gender easier, and improve infection rates.
I’m also concerned about the way it is being enforced. The notion of financially penalising trusts that fail to apply the rule seems perverse and counter-productive. It is a strategy that is often employed by government in an attempt to ensure trusts adhere to all sorts of policies but ultimately, it penalises patients because it takes money away from the front-line NHS. After all, the incompetence of a hospital is not the public’s fault.
A far better strategy, I think, is for those in the upper echelons of trust and hospital management to have a performance-related pay structure and risk personal financial loss when policies are not adhered to. I suspect that if this were the case, managers would suddenly start taking a very active interest in exactly what was going on and engage properly with front-line staff and patients and come up with some innovative ways to solve problems. They might also start to see that closing wards creates more problems than it solves.
The soaring rate of ‘no-father’ families: Lesbian couples and single women rush for IVF in Britain
The number of lesbian couples and single women seeking to start a family through IVF has rocketed since the law governing a child’s need for a father was relaxed. There has been a doubling of lesbian couples undergoing fertility treatment, while three times as many women are taking the plunge into single parenthood.
Almost 350 lesbian couples underwent IVF treatment in the UK in 2009 – just after same-sex couples seeking to become parents were put on an equal legal footing with heterosexuals – compared with 176 in 2007 and only 36 in 2000. The number of single women undergoing IVF has risen still further, going up from 347 in 2007 to 1,070 in 2009.
IVF treatment resulted in the birth of 358 babies to lesbian couples over the past three years while the same treatment for single women led to 660 births.
The figures were collected by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the UK’s independent regulator of fertility clinics. Over the same time period the number of would-be lesbian mothers having donor insemination at registered clinics has stayed roughly constant at just more than 300 per year. If lesbians are fertile they can often conceive using this technique which is less complicated and much cheaper than IVF.
Many try for a baby using DIY insemination with donor sperm outside registered clinics or at foreign clinics, a group which may also be growing.
The legal changes affecting such families came in the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which allowed birth certificates to record two mothers or two fathers. The same Act scrapped the requirement for fertility doctors to consider a child’s need for a male role model before giving IVF treatment. Instead couples had to demonstrate only that they can offer ‘supportive parenting’.
NHS Trusts which deny lesbians fertility treatment while funding it for heterosexual couples face possible legal action.
When the law was changed many Christian groups and campaigners for traditional family values warned it would further undermine the role of fathers. Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, said: ‘It was always inevitable that removing the legal requirement to consider the need of a child for a father would result in a rise in fatherless families.
‘The change in the law had nothing to do with the welfare of children and everything to do with the desires of adults to subvert the natural order and redefine the family to suit themselves.
‘Research demonstrates that the absence of fathers has adverse consequences for children, for mothers and for society. Men and women are not interchangeable and fathers are not an optional extra. ‘If we are really committed to giving children the best start in life, we should not tolerate a law that denies children something as fundamental as a parent of each sex.’
Gary Nunn, of Stonewall, the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity, said it had produced a guide for gays on how to get pregnant using fertility clinics in response to increasing demand. He said: ‘Now the law has changed it has made it fairer and easier for them to get treatment.’
Beetroot juice could give the elderly a new lease of life, say “experts”
It does appear that nitrates in beetroot juice induce temporary vasodilation but lots of things do that — including alcohol. I know which one I would rather drink
Drinking beetroot juice could help the elderly lead more active lives, it has been found. In tests, they required less energy to carry out low-intensity exercises after drinking the juice. The amount of effort it took to walk was reduced by 12 per cent. This could enhance their lives by allowing the elderly to carry out tasks they might not otherwise attempt, the researchers said.
Beetroot juice widens blood vessels and reduces the amount of oxygen needed by muscles during activity. As people age, or if they develop conditions that affect the cardiovascular system, the amount of oxygen taken in during exercise can drop dramatically.
Writing in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Katie Lansley said: ‘What we’ve seen in this study is that beetroot juice can actually reduce the amount of oxygen you need to perform even low-intensity exercise.’
A team from Exeter University and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry gave subjects normal beetroot juice or juice with the nitrates removed. Professor Andy Jones said: ‘Each time the normal, nitrate-rich juice was used, we saw a marked improvement in performance which wasn’t there with the filtered juice – so we know the nitrate is the active ingredient.
There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up — on his usual vastly “incorrect” themes of race, genes, IQ etc.