SOUTHAMPTON'S general hospital is one of the worst in the country for breaking the 'no mixed wards' rule - yet again.

But hospital bosses have hit back saying the figures are so high because of refurbishment and that patients were given the choice not to be placed in mixed sex wards durign this time.

NHS England guidance says trusts are expected to have a "zero-tolerance" approach towards mixed sex accommodation, which it says is essential for ensuring safety, privacy and dignity for patients.

However, In the 12 months to August, the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust recorded 462 breaches of the mixed-sex accommodation rules, according to NHS figures – one of the highest numbers in England.

In summer 2018 new data from NHS England, revealed that 211 patients at UHS were placed in mixed-sex wards in the twelve months to April 2018.

NHS trusts are supposed to be fined £250 per patient each time they break the rules.

This year's breach could potentially cost the cash-strapped hospital up to £115,500 fines i for breaking rules which ban mixed-sex wards.

However, enforcement of the fines is left to individual Clinical Commissioning Groups, which plan and buy healthcare from trusts, who could potentially decide to waive them.

And the figures do not include instances where mixed accommodation is considered justified, such as in intensive care.

A spokesperson for University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust said: “The majority of these breaches were during planned endoscopy refurbishment when patients were informed in advance and given an option to be treated elsewhere.

“Since the completion of this project the number of breaches has reduced and we do try to ensure patients are cared for in single sex accommodation at all times, though our priority is to treat patients in appropriate clinical locations to meet their medical needs.

“As a result, there may be occasions when we make short-term arrangements in the interests of patient safety which result in breaches but we always aim to resolve these as quickly as possible.”

Across England, more than 19,900 breaches were recorded over the same 12-month period, a 4.5 per cent increase on the previous year.

There were wide variations across the country – more than half of trusts recorded no rule breaches last year, while almost half of the infractions in August were in the South East region alone.

Lucy Watson, chair of the Patient's Association charity, said failing to follow the rules could cause additional anxiety for people already worried about being in hospital.

“We are very concerned that so many people are still being placed in inappropriate hospital accommodation, many years after mixed-sex wards were supposedly abolished," she said.

"It signals that some trusts are taking this issue more seriously than others, but it shouldn’t matter where in the country you are admitted to hospital – everyone has a right to be treated in an appropriate environment that allows them to keep their dignity."

The ban applies to sleeping accommodation, which includes any area where patients are admitted on beds or trolleys even if they do not stay overnight.

Think tank the Nuffield Trust said the rise in recent years reflects a big increase in pressure on the system.

"This will obviously be difficult for patients, but the grim reality in an NHS with stretched capacity is that the alternative is sometimes being left on a trolley or having treatment delayed," said deputy director of research, Dr Sarah Scobie.

A spokeswoman for NHS England said: “The vast majority of trusts have completely eliminated breaches and at an average of just 0.7 per cent they remain extremely rare in the context of the hundreds of thousands of people who are admitted to hospital every month.

“But the ambition remains to keep the number of times that this happens to an absolute minimum.”

She added that CCGs reinvested all proceeds from fines back into patient care.