The push for single gender hospital rooms

Wednesday, 04 October, 2023

The push for single gender hospital rooms

Mixed gender hospital rooms have been highlighted as a concern in a recent paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, prompting calls for single gender hospital rooms in order to protect human rights of personal security and dignity.

“Risk of rights violations and subsequent harm is exacerbated by the high rates of physical, cognitive, and sensory impairment experienced by people in hospital wards,” lead author Dr Cindy Towns of the University of Otago, Wellington, said.

The practice of placing men and women in the same hospital room has been prohibited in the UK National Health Service for over a decade, but previous research by this group showed mixed rooms were common in a major New Zealand public hospital, where in the more than 160,000 admissions analysed, 48% were affected by mixed gender rooms. The study also found the prevalence increased over the eight-year period, and disproportionately affected vulnerable older adults. Reports and complaints show it also occurs in Australia.

“Mixed gender rooms breach the psychological safety of these patients, but this is avoidable by changing bed management practices,” Towns said.

“The majority of patients prefer having their own room, it allows for visitor access without disturbing other patients, improves infection control and enhances the disclosure of private health information.

“Male and female patients express a preference for single gender rooms. For female patients, this preference is associated with fear of violence while for male patients it is expressed as general concern and discomfort.”

The researchers argue that hospitals need to be designed with single occupancy rooms as the standard of care.

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