The NHS and government aren’t addressing gender concerns in mental health inpatient care

6 April 2011

Yesterday, the Care Quality Commission published the Count Me In report which revealed troubling statistics about the state of mental health inpatient care in the UK.

According to this alarming report only 23% of female and 39% of male mental health inpatients are accommodated in designated single-sex wards, despite it having been government policy since 2005. An astonishing 13% of male and 16% of female mental health inpatients still don’t even have access to designated single sex toilets and bathing facilities.

The privacy, dignity and, in some cases, meeting of cultural or religious needs that same-sex wards give mental health inpatients are essential not only to aid recovery, but to respect their rights as human beings.

Mixed sex wards not only increase stress and anxiety in patients at a time when they are most vulnerable, they also compromise patient safety. For instance, sleeping vulnerable women in the same stressful confines as men with severe mental health problems seems self-evidently unsuitable for all concerned, yet this is exactly what is currently happening with nearly four fifths of female mental health inpatients. It really is shameful.

This unfortunate situation is not the fault of mental health services and especially not of care staff, who do a great job in difficult conditions. It is the result of a systematic failure by NHS bodies and successive governments to deliver on their express pledges to address this issue.

The previous Labour government made a commitment to delivering single sex accommodation for mental health inpatients, but as these figures show, they fundamentally failed to deliver this. The current coalition government has renewed this pledge, but we have yet to hear what steps they will be taking to achieve it .

A lot has been discussed recently about the merits (or otherwise) of the coalition’s proposed NHS reforms, yet here is a reform that could prove as important to the patients concerned as anything else. They need to make delivering it a pressing priority if the NHS is to avoid failing yet another generation of mental health inpatients.