Cole, M., Baldwin, D.S. and Thomas, P.
Sex and segregation: staff attitudes explored.
International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 7, (4), . (doi:10.1080/13651500310002364).
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INTRODUCTION The aim of the study was to establish whether there was consistency of opinion amongst staff about mixed sex wards and the sexual activity of inpatients. Also to establish what demographic factors, if any, modulated those opinions.
METHOD A 17-item, five-point, questionnaire was supplied to all medical and nursing staff working on five wards of a psychiatric inpatient unit. Demographic details of the respondents were also recorded.
RESULTS Some items produced almost unanimous responses: 92.5% agreeing or strongly agreeing that some inpatients form sexually active relationships that are detrimental to their health. Staff felt that single sex wards should be available but were unsure that they would improve quality of life for either patients or staff. The strongest factor predicting response was profession (doctor or nurse), the responses being significantly different in eight of the 17 items. Doctors were more likely to believe that women's and staff's lives would be better on single sex wards and were less likely to be satisfied with current arrangements. They were also more likely to believe that sex was common among inpatients, and that there was an unofficial place to go in hospitals to have sex. Doctors worried more about the patient choice of sexual partner and believed that health workers should have a role in influencing that choice. Doctors also felt more strongly that patients sometimes form sexually active relationships of benefit to health. Ward was the next most important, being significantly different in four of the 17 questions. Gender and age of respondents produced few differences.
CONCLUSIONS In view of the United Kingdom government commitment to phasing out mixed sex hospital accommodation by 2002 (Safety, privacy and dignity in mental health units - Guidance on mixed sex accommodation, Department of Health, 2000), the doubts of staff about improvement to inpatient quality of life, and their own quality of working life need to be further examined. Staff attitudes generally are more likely to be determined by job or ward of employment than the staff's gender, age, or experience of psychiatry. This may have implications in tailoring training schemes for staff of inpatient psychiatric units.
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