THE ROYAL Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Trust faces fines of up to £6,300 in 12 months for breaking rules which ban mixed-sex wards.

In the 12 months to August, RBCH recorded 25 breaches of the mixed-sex accommodation rules, according to NHS figures.

That was an increase on the three instances recorded in the previous 12-month period.

NHS trusts are supposed to be fined £250 per patient each time they break the rules.This would mean the The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust faced fines of £6,250 over the course of the year.

However, enforcement of these fines are left to individual clinical commissioning groups, such as the Dorset CCG which plan and buy healthcare from trusts, who could potentially decide to waive them.

A spokesman for Dorset CCG said they would not be issuing fines. He said the CCG agreed action plans to "maintain quality, rather than to issue financial penalties".

Director of Nursing and Midwifery, Paula Shobbrook, said: “Maintaining the dignity of our patients at all times is of paramount importance to our Trust. These breaches predominantly occurred when patients were in high-dependency units in our hospital, requiring observation because of clinical need and patient safety.

"When the patient became well enough to be moved to an inpatient bed, unfortunately there were no single sex wards available at the time, so this was then counted as a breach. As soon as beds were available, the patients were moved.”

NHS England guidance says trusts are expected to have a "zero-tolerance" approach towards mixed sex accommodation, which it says is essential for ensuring safety, privacy and dignity for patients.

The figures do not include instances where mixed accommodation is considered justified, such as in intensive care.

Louise Bate, Healthwatch Dorset Manager, said: "While these numbers are fairly low compared to other hospitals, for the patients affected it can be really upsetting to have to spend time in a mixed sex ward when you're feeling ill and vulnerable. Our volunteers are currently taking part in Patient Led Assessments of the Care Environment (PLACE) at all our local hospitals, assessing patient privacy and dignity. Their findings will go into a report to help improve services based on patient feedback. We're also keen to hear from local people about their experience of hospital stays, you can contact us on 0300 111 01102 or"

Lucy Watson, chair of the Patient's Association charity, said failing to follow the rules could cause additional anxiety for people already worried about being in hospital.

“We are very concerned that so many people are still being placed in inappropriate hospital accommodation, many years after mixed-sex wards were supposedly abolished," she said.

"Patients deserve to be treated with dignity, and at a time when many will be feeling frail or vulnerable, it is vital that they feel some sense of privacy and safety.

"Patients shouldn’t find themselves in a bed next to a member of the opposite sex, particularly if they need to use a bedpan, or have intimate care."

The ban applies to sleeping accommodation, which includes any area where patients are admitted on beds or trolleys even if they do not stay overnight.

Across England, more than 19,900 breaches were recorded over the same 12-month period, a 4.5 per cent increase on the previous year.

Think tank the Nuffield Trust said the rise in recent years reflects a big increase in pressure on the system.

"This will obviously be difficult for patients, but the grim reality in an NHS with stretched capacity is that the alternative is sometimes being left on a trolley or having treatment delayed," said deputy director of research, Dr Sarah Scobie.

A spokeswoman for NHS England said: “The vast majority of trusts have completely eliminated breaches and at an average of just 0.7 per cent they remain extremely rare in the context of the hundreds of thousands of people who are admitted to hospital every month.

“But the ambition remains to keep the number of times that this happens to an absolute minimum.”

She added that CCGs reinvested all proceeds from fines back into patient care.