Single-sex wards are not strictly part of the PEAT work - but are a continual source of complaints and concern, says the Patients Association. 'We have seen not just mixed-sex wards but patients in corridors waiting for Xrays with their bums hanging out, ' says assistant director Simon Williams, who feels the issue is one of dignity.

The government is committed to eliminating 95 per cent of mixed wards by the end of 2002 but this is proving hard to achieve.

One reason is the physical make-up of many hospitals. Money can be spent improving the wards but if the hospital is due for replacement or extensive refurbishment, how long do the wards have to last to be a worthwhile use of scarce resources?

Mr Williams says some changes can be made with little investment - even something as simple as a curtain or partition down the middle of the ward dividing it into men's and women's areas.

Making toilet and washing facilities accessible without the need to walk through the other sex's space has proved difficult, and bed pressures can make it difficult to separate men and women on mixed wards, even if bays do make it theoretically possible.