DORSET County Hospital has not been fined for breaching any rules on mixed-sex accommodation over the past year.

According to data from NHS England, Dorset County Hospital (DCH) NHS Foundation Trust recorded 16 instances of mixed-sex accommodation in the twelve months to April 2018.

However, DCH's director of nursing and quality, Nicky Lucey explained that once the figures were put into context, no mixed-sex rules were breached at the hospital.

The mixed-sex rules have been in place since 2011 to ensure that patients only have to sleep in single-sex accommodation, which campaigners say is vital for protecting patients' dignity.

Hospital trusts that breach the rules by placing a patient in accommodation with the opposite sex face a £250 fine each time.

This means that the Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust could have faced a bill of up to £4,000 over the 12 month period to April.

Over the 12 month period, the Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust's worst performance was in January 2018, when five patients were placed in mixed-sex wards.

Ms Lucey said: "National standards say that any patient requiring an overnight inpatient bed should be cared for in a single sex facility – if this does not happen then hospitals must report it to NHS England as a mixed sex breach.

“DCH reported 15 mixed sex accommodation breaches last year that related to patients who were in Intensive Care or the High Dependency Unit, areas which are exempt from the rule because the mixing of sexes is clinically justified. These patients were deemed clinically fit for discharge to an inpatient ward bed and we have an agreed timeframe to undertake these moves. If the move does not occur within that timeframe then we have to report it as a mixed sex breach. While we always aim to complete the move within the timeframe, patient safety is our absolute priority, and sometimes these moves cannot happen until all the necessary arrangements are in place for a safe discharge from Intensive Care or the High Dependency Unit. The 16th breach related to the clinical mental health need of a patient where it was in the best interests of the patient to maintain their safety and care.

“Our staff are very good at managing patient safety and the clinical need of patients, with regular reviews throughout the day under the matrons’ leadership and prompt escalation of any potential mixed sex breaches. Our local clinical commissioning group is happy with our approach and has not applied any fines to DCH for mixed sex breaches.

“It is worth noting that at the beginning of this year NHS England relaxed the rules regarding mixed-sex accommodation in recognition of the NHS suffering from a particularly challenging winter in terms of demand and staffing, and in view of the fact that maintaining patient safety was paramount.”

Chairman of campaign group The Patients Association, Lucy Watson said it was "hugely important" for trusts to fully commit to providing "appropriate care" to their patients.

"When people are admitted hospital they often feel very vulnerable," she said.

"They are in a different environment to what they are used to, they may be seriously unwell, and many patients are frail and elderly.

"People don't like to be seen in bed in general, especially while wearing a hospital gown.

"You may get elderly or confused people who get hot and throw their gowns off in their sleep.

"They are going to be much happier knowing that they did that in a room full of people of the same sex rather than the opposite.

"People need to feel that their privacy and dignity are being properly attended to."