CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

HEALTH – MIXED-SEX WARDS – 25 June 2002

Dr Julian Lewis: The Secretary of State mentioned what he thought would be in the headlines tomorrow, but I am sure that he is aware that, in the headlines today, is the case of a 60-year-old mental patient who was raped on a mixed-sex ward. He will recall our exchanges in the past about mixed-sex wards and that, in1997, the date for ending them was envisaged to be 1999. That went back to 2002, and then to the end of 2002. When will we see the elimination of mixed-sex wards in mental hospitals?

[Alan Milburn: If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would be cautious about drawing too much from an individual case in the National Health Service. I might be wrong, but my understanding is that the incident concerned happened to a patient who occupied a single room, not a mixed-sex ward. I may be wrong about that, but if the hon. Gentleman is getting his information from the Daily Mail, he should be cautious.

Wherever the incident took place, it was appalling and almost indescribable. It raises profound questions for the NHS. It is worth remembering that there are some evil people out there and we must ensure that the right form of protection is available for patients without – this is something we want to avoid – turning all our hospitals into prisons. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to avoid that too.]

Dr Lewis: The Secretary of State is partly correct. According to BBC News Online, the incident occurred in a patient's room, but it is believed that a male went through a mixed-sex ward before reaching that room. If it had not been a mixed-sex ward, that person would have been spotted. In any case, the Government have stated for years that they would abolish mixed-sex wards, but they have not done so. When will they do that?

[Mr Milburn: In all candour, the hon. Gentleman is trying to draw too many wrong conclusions from one isolated terrible case. Let us examine carefully whether the incident involved a mixed-sex ward or not. It is my understanding that a member of the public came into the hospital and entered the lady's individual, single room.

We are making progress on mixed-sex wards. I think the hon. Gentleman is aware that we have targets to meet by the end of the year. I have no doubt that he will be the first to raise it if we do not meet them. However, I can assure him that we are well on target. If he wants to have a word with me after 31 December, we will contrast the progress that this Government have made in eliminating mixed-sex accommodation with the absolute failure to do anything about it when his Government were in power.]