VULNERABLE hospital patients kept in single rooms are being treated like prisoners in “solitary confinement”, medical experts warned.
Health workers said patients are frightened, isolated and at greater risk of further injury because they can’t “look out for each other”.
Almost a third of hospital beds are already in single rooms and the Scottish Government plans to axe multi-bedded wards on new NHS buildings such as the £200m replacement hospital in Dumfries and £842m project in south Glasgow.
But there is growing concern 100% single-room hospitals will leave patients isolated and hinder their recovery as well as add millions to hospital running costs.
In 2008 Nicola Sturgeon – who at the time was Scotland’s health secretary – said single-bed hospitals prevent the spread of infections like MRSA and improve patient dignity.
But one Dumfries volunteer said an elderly patient in a double room with just a single bed was so scared “she hung on to my hand and pleaded with me not to leave her.”
Dr John Womersley, a retired public health consultant who worked for the NHS in Glasgow for almost 30 years, contacted chief medical officer (CMO) Harry Burns in a bid to stop hospitals being built with only single rooms.
He gathered the views of doctors and patients groups and wrote: “My concerns are that the policy deprives the considerable number of patients who prefer (or would benefit from) company of that choice, and that the evidence base for the policy is dubious.”
A rehabilitation specialist in Dumfries – who wished to remain nameless – highlighted the negative consequences of only having single rooms in her department.
She wrote: “A few days in a single room might be tolerated but three months would be unpleasant.
“When patients have needed periods in a single room on the unit they often describe this time as ‘solitary confinement’ because of the lack of social interaction.
“100 per cent single rooms will make them isolated and poorly motivated and will hinder their progress to independence increasing the number of bed days in hospital.”
In other evidence submitted to the CMO one senior NHS official in Dumfries and Galloway highlighted concerns over added costs.
He said: “Having 100 per cent single rooms adds some 15 per cent to the £200m cost of a 50/50 mix of single rooms and four-bedded wards.”
Dr Womersley said patients groups voiced concerns of people feeling “unhappy, lonely and distressed” if left in single rooms.
He said: “In shared rooms you can find friendship and look out for each other. If someone’s drip is coming out, or someone doesn’t look as well as they should then they can draw attention to it.
“Nobody is saying everyone should be in the large wards we used to have or even in four-bedded bays.
“But what sensible people are saying is that we should have a reasonable mix of accommodation so people who want or need single rooms for a particular reason have them, but those who prefer company when they are in hospital for a bit longer should also have that choice.”
Dumfries consultant Dr Chris Isles said he was “baffled” by the determination to press ahead with 100 per cent single rooms when surveys had suggested patients wanted a mix of provision.
He said: “I am all in favour of a substantial increase in the proportion of single rooms when a new hospital is built – Dumfries has 21% at present and could do with at least 50%.
“But to dictate that this must be 100% when surveys suggest that a significant number of patients crave the company of shared accommodation flies in the face of all reason.”
Last month current health secretary Alex Neil revealed 26 of the country’s 218 hospitals had 100% single rooms with “strong evidence” of their effectiveness.
Jason Leitch, Scottish Government clinical director, said: “There is evidence of the effectiveness of single rooms in minimising risks of healthcare associated infections and in protecting dignity for patients, and that is why in Scotland we are moving to greatly increase the number of single rooms.”
“Single rooms provide a better and safer environment for patients and will enhance their experience during their stay in hospital.”