The Conservatives have pledged to almost double the proportion of single rooms in NHS hospitals within the first term of a Conservative government.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley announced at this week's party conference in Birmingham that there would be 45,000 more single rooms available within five years if they win the next election - increasing the proportion from 28 per cent to 55 per cent.

He said this increase would mean that every NHS patient would have access to a single room if they need or want it, guaranteeing that all mental health patients would have their own room, as would all mothers giving birth who want one.

But he told HSJ that this did not necessarily guarantee patients a single room in the hospital of their choice.

The figures also include a 7 per cent increase in single rooms in the NHS reserved for patients who have or are suspected of having a healthcare-acquired infection.

Extra funding

The Conservatives said they would make available£1.57bn of capital funding over five years to fulfil their pledge. Joined on the conference platform by his six shadow health colleagues, Mr Lansley said: "Within five years under a Conservative government every patient will be given the opportunity to choose a single room when booking an operation in hospital.

"No one should be forced to suffer the indignity of staying on a mixed sex ward. And no one should catch a hospital infection from another patient because a hospital didn't have proper isolation facilities," he said.

The announcement drew criticism that it was an example of the Conservatives not releasing control of centralised health policy.

Andrew Haldenby, director of the think tank Reform, said afterwards: "There's some talk of decentralising but there's also still talk of central control, for example a single bedroom for everyone who wants it."

Unanswered questions

NHS Confederation acting chief executive Steve Barnett said in a fringe session that the service would have a lot of questions about the announcement, and that they would need to be answered.

"It does at face value sound like a top-down target," he said.

Speaking to HSJ after his speech, Mr Lansley insisted it was not a top-down target, saying "strictly speaking" hospitals would have a choice about whether to provide more single rooms. "There are standards. Patients not being in mixed sex accommodation is a service standard. It's not a target, it doesn't distort any clinical judgements, it's just a service standard," he said.

"Having enough isolation facilities doesn't distort anybody's clinical priorities. It's not a process target, it's supporting the NHS to do this."

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