THE Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust faced fines of up to £21,000 in 12 months for breaking rules which ban mixed-sex wards.

The Trust, which operates Basingstoke and Deane Hospital and the War Memorial Hospital in Andover, is not supposed to have men and women on the same wards.

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.

It did, however, add that 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.

In the 12 months to August, the Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust recorded 84 breaches of the mixed-sex accommodation rules, according to NHS figures .

That was an increase on the 177 instances recorded in the previous 12-month period.

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

This would mean the Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust faced fines of £21,000 over the course of the year.

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

Across England, more than 19,900 breaches were recorded over the same 12-month period, a 4.5% 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% 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.