Key messages

  • Mixed-sex bed-based environments can put vulnerable patients at risk.
  • Managers and staff should consider at risk groups and try to accommodate them and ensure they always feel safe.

The provision of mixed-sex, bed-based environments in acute inpatient units presents a unique set of challenges, particularly in the care of female patients and highly vulnerable individuals.

As there are typically more males than females in acute wards, these environments can expose female patients to incidents of sexual, physical or emotional abuse, which can cause significant trauma and have a highly detrimental impact on people’s treatment and care.

Promoting residents’ safety

There are many ways in which unit managers and staff can improve the gender sensitivity of bed-based services and promote the privacy and safety of female patients, such as:

  • offering female residents a choice of female-only wards and patient lounges
  • providing door locks on bedrooms and bathrooms
  • staffing nursing desks in patient lounges
  • providing patient brochures on privacy and residents’ responsibilities
  • appointing specialist staff and staff-patient committees to monitor gender issues within their units and make recommendations for more gender-sensitive provisions.

Mental health managers and staff can take other steps to ensure their bed-based services provide safer environments for female and highly vulnerable patients, including:

  • adopting a strict ‘no sexual activity’ policy in bed-based services and emphasising this to all patients upon their arrival
  • conducting regular risk and vulnerability assessments of individual patients and conveying the results to all clinical and nursing staff
  • providing ward staff with clear guidance on what constitutes a ‘sexually safe’ environment and their responsibilities to protect the safety and privacy of individual patients
  • regularly enquiring into female patients’ health needs and providing them with all appropriate support, including routine health checks, doctors’ appointments, and any sanitary items they may require.