How do nurses feel about mixed gender wards?

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Last week, A Current Affair presented a tabloid-style report on men and women sharing hospital wards in NSW.

Watch their report here.

Despite the sensationalised treatment of this issue, it is a real issue, not the least because of the NSW Health directive that “Patients who are staying overnight in a NSW public health facility do not have to sleep in the same room or ward bay, use mixed bathroom facilities or pass through opposite gender areas to reach their own facilities.”

current affair mixed

The Current Affair investigation focused on events at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. Yet other major hospitals also have mixed wards.

Tell us your experience as a nurse – or as a patient – with mixed wards. First of all, how common are they – do you regularly work on mixed wards or not?

Do you see any problems with them? Any advantages for you as a nurse? Do patients complain about them? Do men as well as women dislike them?

This post has sparked a big debate on our Facebook page – read and contribute here (but we still welcome your comments below too.)

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18 COMMENTS

  1. From a registered nurses perspective, it doesn’t really matter if males and females are sharing a 4 bed room. Even if you’re a private patient in a public hospital, there are others that are prioritised before private patients. Highly infectious, palliative care; those on their last breaths, immune suppressed; cancer patients, amongst many other medically prioritised needs.
    At best managers try to put all males or all females into a shared room. However if there is only one bed left on the ward and it’s in a room with 3 other males, then you will be placed there.
    If the public system wants female or male only rooms, then we are going to need more rooms, more beds, more nurses, more hospital staff and of course more funding!
    It is unfortunate for those who do not have the privilege of having private health insurance and can be transferred to private hospitals.
    As a nurse myself, with no private health insurance, it personally does not bother me when I have been in a shared room or ward. Knowing I am there to receive the best of treatments available, the best care from medical staff and excellent support from hospital staff.
    I consider myself to be grateful , appreciative, fortunate and ever so lucky to be living in this country that provides a health care system. There are millions of people in other countries that do not even have the basic necessities of life; clean water, nutritious food, suitable shelter, safety, clothing or education.
    Be grateful for what we have.

    • Hi Angela,
      I totally agree with your opinion. There are a lot of people in the world who don’t have our Australian privileges, but try to get used to their countries’ conditions. We are already fortunate and should be grateful for what we have.
      I also want to stress that nurses are responsible for protecting their patients’ privacy and maintaining their confidentiality.

  2. I am against mixed wards of male/ female patients. Patients are highly vulnerable when they are in hospital. They need to use the toilet at times urgently, needing to get up quickly without having time to get dressed properly. Nowadays, most patients in hospital are very ill and need many procedures/ actions performed in highly compromising situations, most regularly at the bedside. Remember, patients are only separated by a thin curtain! I personally prefer not to be in mixed ward. I certainly do not want my teenage/ adolescent daughter to be in a mixed ward. Any female, especially the young and most vulnerable, must be protected whilst in such a vulnerable position as being in hospital. I also would not want my elderly mother to be in a mixed ward.

    • It wouldn’t be appropriate to have a person under age of 18 to be in a shared room. That I can understand. In those cases the child should be either in a children’s hospital or all same sex shared room.

  3. I personally think it is absolutely disgraceful except in ED or high dependency situations. It seems to mostly occur with elderly patients and it is most disrespectful to them and their values. If it has to happen occasionally then ok, but it should be rectified as soon as a bed becomes avalable and hospitals should not become complacent and just accept this. Just my old fashioned opinion. How times have changed…It’s just about respect.

  4. I see this quite a bit in public wards. The only issue I’ve had is when you need to discuss something with the patient that they might find embarrassing. Other than that, very few of my patients have had a problem with mixed rooms. On the contrary, I see a lot of hospital-room solidarity.

  5. Like Julie and Gretchen, I am against mixed-gender wards, but disappointingly, this has become the ‘norm’ in my workplaces. I am aware of the reasons, costs, including more rooms, more nurses, etc. I have had comments from patients, in particular those who grew up in Australia in a time where this practice was not only not a consideration, it would have been totally unacceptable. So why is it OK now? I know we’ve moved on a bit in relation to issues of gender equality, but sleeping beside some stranger of the opposite sex with a flimsy curtain as the privacy provider is not, in my view, acceptable, comfortable nor conducive to quality sleep.

    A few patients, especially the elderly, have stated that they feel uncomfortable sharing rooms 24/7 with the opposite sex. When asked further, some have shared examples of men not even trying to be discreet when passing wind, burping loudly/repeatedly. Some have described the “filthy” state of the toilets after being used by men. I’m not picking on men; these comments are from the female patients. There may be many male patients who’d prefer to share rooms with only men – for similar reasons.

    With our ethnically diverse patient population, we have become more aware of culturally-specific needs. Some of these needs include female patients (or their spouse) not only requesting, but insisting, to be treated by female doctors and female nurses only. That’s fine and I’ve been involved in organising those needs to be met. Due to my work area, I am not aware if these patients have later been transferred to a mixed-gender room on the ward, but would like to hear from other nurses if such requests have been made for a female-only room and if so, what the outcome was.

    Further, we are directed and afforded time off the floor (a rare opportunity in current times) to attend the mandatory training ‘Respect the Difference’. This may not have anything to do with mixed-gender wards, but the point is we are made to attend this 8-hour training package to understand cultural differences so we can have gain a deeper understanding of our Aboriginal patient population to be able to provide better, more meaningful, effective and respectful patient care.

    I now refer back to the patients who grew up in this country at a time when sharing a room in a hospital with the opposite sex would have been considered rude, inappropriate, unacceptable. Many of our current elderly population who fought for Australia, directly or indirectly, so that it didn’t become a third world country and those who have built this magnificent country to what it is today, including the migrants settled here decades ago, should also be afforded the respect they deserve and their cultural needs met.

  6. The ward that I work on as a nurse is mixed but has single gender bays and I can honestly say no-one has complained. We do not accept patients if there is no appropriate bed available, thus we do not have mixed bays. Those who do have issues with mixed gender wards, do they also have issues with being cared for by a nurse or doctor of the opposite gender?

  7. As someone who is a past nurse and has been a patient in a mixed ward after having a breast operation, I found it terribly embarrassing to be so exposed with an elderly man in a bed opposite me who ogled me so much I had to request the nurses to keep the curtain drawn around me. I’ve also spoken with gynaecologists I’ve worked with about the difficulties they face in both examining and talking to their patients without privacy about gynaecological matters. In fact I know many who were actively pushing for female-only wards, at least for gynaecology, to be brought back again for the sake of the women.

    As both a nurse and as a patient I have hated mixed sex wards!

  8. NSW Health has a mandatory policy directive published in 2010 Same Gender Accommodation. It is to be actioned when it is unavoidable that patients being admitted cannot be in a same gender bay ward area. http://www0.health.nsw.gov.au/policies/pd/2015/pdf/PD2015_018.pdf

    Whilst bed pressures are at a premium in the public hospitals, there is no excuse for not following the above policy. At least the patient is aware (informed) and staff can do their best to rectify the matter. The problem is staff have no clue the policy exists. Administrators focus on their KPIs to get patients into beds. It is no concern to them if vulnerable men and women are mixed into a bed bay ward area. Nor do they think about the ethical, moral and cultural issues of the patient. They only care that the bed is filled.

    When the policy was published, millions of dollars were allocated to employ additional wardsmen to move beds. This was to free up the nursing staff. Some staff maintain that moving patients around to place them in a same gender area is unsettling. Others state that there is an additional burden to clean the bed area. Years ago, it was never an issue.

    Having read through the comments from Facebook it appears the majority do not like mixed gender bed bay areas. However, there are those who think it is okay for vulnerable men and women to be mixed together in general bed bay areas. After all, ‘a bed is a bed’ attitude. Yet no other publicly funded agency providing overnight accommodation mixes men and women together in a room. Do bed pressures give a health department and its hospitals the right to subject people to an undignified and degrading experience when other publicly funded agencies don’t? I am sure Ms. Skinner would not enjoy the experience.

    There is no question that nursing staff work very hard, are often under-resourced, time poor and are mentally and physically exhausted at times. But many have become de-sensitised and brainwashed that mixing vulnerable men and women together in general bed bay areas is acceptable when it is utterly disgraceful.

    As a retired health care worker, I applaud the Nurses Association for taking a zero tolerance stance on mixed gender accommodation in general public hospitals. I also applaud the nurses who put the patient first.

    • The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association hasn’t taken a strong position on this. We prefer that genders are not mixed but recognise the reality is that sometimes it’s not possible. The Garling Inquiry recommended that it be avoided if possible.

      • Thanks for pointing out my error as to the Nurses’ Union position on shared gender accommodation in the public hospitals. My apologies..

        A correction re the Garling report recommendation “1.129 One way in which some hospitals try and be more efficient with their bed usage is to put men and women in the same room in an inpatient ward. I think that this is undignified for the patients and I recommend that it must stop immediately “

  9. Well said Anon.

    The trouble is if Ms Skinner, or any MP for that matter, had to enter the public hospital system as a patient, they would not be subjected to the same experiences as the general public. VIP treatment is commenced immediately, including selective accommodation arrangements. It’s amazing the speed of communication, from the ‘top’ down, when any patient considered to be VIP by management enters a hospital.

    • I agree. This would not happen to any of the people who are making these policies, it does not affect them or their families. Mixed wards are strictly unacceptable in any circumstance. It is also irrevelant whether a patient makes a complaint or not. Most patients would not complain for several reasons, might even be that they think they have to be grateful to have a bed, or that they worry that their care might be adversely effected if they complain about anything.

  10. The biggest problem with people having to be in a shared ward/room is that nurses want patients to be in view (in the nurses’ view, from the nurses station) because if patients are situated in that way, the nurses do not have to get up from a chair at the nurses station to check on the patients. No good having 2 men in a 4 bed room and then 2 women in a 4 bed room next door. Have to all be in room that is closest to the nurses station. Too far to travel.
    This whole problem stems from laziness. Nothing more. Don’t care what is argued from nursing staff, the problem is laziness and lack of interest in the patient’s comfort and dignity.

  11. My husband has been admitted to a central coast hospital three times in the last six weeks and guess what, each time has been put in a ward with three women. When I questioned it this last time I was told by the nurse in charge “I’m not going to move 5 people to satisfy one”. I then asked if it would be considered during his stay and was told “I’ll keep it in the back of my mind” – in other words “nope”. I believe this is in contradiction to the guidelines. Yes I understand hospitals are busy but I also believe it is laziness on behalf of the staff. It would never have happened years ago, so why now? Why use your private insurance?

  12. Just been released from Prince Charles Hospital, Brisbane – my fellow patients in the 4 bed unisex ward, included a middle aged woman, myself and two v. frail men aged 75+years – both appeared physically frail and emotionally impaired, one man was particularly socially uninhibited. He frequently talked about being constipated using vulgar, impolite expressions. I felt enormously embarrassed for the nurses who attended his innumerable calls for assistance and managed his condition with professional good humour. I appreciate the quality of medical and nursing care I received – and still feel relieved that I am no longer confined in a very unpleasant ward. I dont know how the female patient felt about her confinement, she kept herself to herself.

  13. My daughter is currently sharing a room with three elderly men, also sharing the shower and toilet. There is coughing, phlegm, passing wind, toilet smells and snoring. I think it is a disgrace that in Australia this is happening in most hospitals around the country. Not sure how a young women is supposed to get well in such an environment. The fact that she has private health coverage has made no difference.

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