A leaked memo written by a strategic health authority chairman has revealed health secretary Alan Johnson’s deep frustrations that New Labour’s 1997 manifesto pledge to scrap mixed-sex accommodation has not been met.

The memo was written by NHS South East Coast chairman Graham Eccles after a meeting last week between strategic health authority chairs, Mr Johnson and his special adviser Mario Dunn.

In the document, obtained by the Conservative Party, Mr Eccles quoted Mr Johnson as saying: “Sane and rational arguments about why it can’t be done no longer cut it with me, it’s going to happen.”

Capital fund

The memo says a central capital fund will be established for strategic health authorities, while acute trusts will have to address the problem via a new contractual obligation.

Only accident and emergency wards will be excluded from the ban on shared accommodation.

SHAs should expect to be asked to produce a stocktake by the end of March with measurable milestones, it states.


The memo says the Tories had “rattled” Labour over the issue.

Mr Johnson felt the Department of Health had “got it wrong” in implementing the policy in 1997 and again in 2001, but plans “to make sure it’s done right in 2009”.

In January, a freedom of information request from the Conservatives found 15 per cent of hospital trusts were still using open plan mixed-sex wards.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “This is a stark admission of failure from Labour.

“Frankly, it is a scandal that they have done nothing about mixed-sex wards except make repeated empty promises.

“For Labour to be admitting now that they need to change their policy in private meetings behind closed doors, without offering anything to the public who have had their privacy and dignity violated, adds insult to injury.”

DH plans

A DH spokesman confirmed that plans for a new drive to “significantly reduce” mixed-sex accommodation across the NHS will be unveiled by Mr Johnson next week.

The memo from Graham Eccles:

Sent: Thursday, 15 January, 2009 4:30:15 PM
Subject: Secretary of State Meeting with SHA Chairs

The S of S and his special political adviser, Mario Dunn, met with the SHA Chairs on Tuesday evening to discuss some issues of concern. I thought you might find it useful to have an early sight of those concerns before they reach you via the executive channel and to have my take on where he is coming from on the issues.

Mixed Sex Accommodation

There is no doubt that the Tories have rattled labour over their failure to meet the manifest promise of ending mixed sex accommodation. His view is that the DH got it wrong in implementing the policy in 1997, again in 2001, but he is going to make sure its done right in 2009. I quote, “sane and rational arguments about why it can’t be done no longer cut it with me, its going to happen”.

Expect a revised definition on the subject that simply makes it clear that men and women and children and adults will no longer share the same accommodation. Everything is included in that definition, except A and E.

He wants the project delivered via the commissioning contracts as a contractual obligation on providers. Expect to be asked to produce a stocktake by the end of March with measurable milestones you will be expected to meet going forward.

A central capital fund for you to draw on will be established.

European WTD

If the NHS is going to ask for dispensation, the time for doing so is drawing close. Make sure your organisation is in the loop, but expect to have to justify asking for an exclusion.



Graham Eccles


South East Coast Strategic Health Authority