NHS hospitals will be given guidance on preserving single sex wards

·3-min read
NHS hospitals will be given guidance on preserving single-sex wards - PA
NHS hospitals will be given guidance on preserving single-sex wards - PA

NHS hospitals will be given guidance on preserving single-sex wards and businesses offered reassurance on the legality of keeping male and female lavatories, under plans by the equalities regulator to help public and private sector bodies resist pressure from pro-trans activists.

Baroness Falkner, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has told ministers that the body is acting on a request by MPs to issue hospitals, schools, prisons and private firms with "worked examples and guidance" that will "provide clarity ... on the provision of single-sex services." It is expected to issue the guidance early next year.

The regulator's intervention follows a series of highly charged controversies over the use of women-only facilities by trans hospital patients, prisoners and staff.

A Whitehall source said that "one of the biggest concerns of women’s groups is ensuring prisons, refuges, changing rooms and hospital wards are kept single sex." The new guidance will be something that public and private sector bodies "can use to show they are adhering to the law."

Law strengthened to protect single-sex facilities

The Telegraph has previously revealed that NHS Trusts across the country have issued guidance that says patients should be admitted based on the gender they identify with and therefore can choose which ward, lavatory and shower facilities they use. Some trusts have labelled those patients who express discomfort as transphobic, compared them to racists in official guidelines and ordered staff to report them to police for hate crimes.

The EHRC's plan to clarify the law is intended to strengthen the hand of organisations currently concerned that they will face legal action if they attempt to retain women-only facilities or groups.

An EHRC spokesman said: “The law allows for single sex spaces and we believe it’s important people understand how they should operate in practice. We are looking at how best to provide more clarity for service providers so they can be confident they are complying with the law.”

Critics say that the existing code of practice attached to the 2010 Equality Act is too vague on the circumstances in which trans people can legally be excluded from women-only facilities, such as hospital wards and rape crisis centres.

Giving evidence to the Commons women and equalities committee in 2019, Karon Monaghan, a QC specialising in equality and human rights, said it was not sufficient for the existing guidance simply to say: “You can exclude people on the grounds of trans status if you need to.”

Clear new code

She added that new guidance should spell out: “These are the circumstances and these are the factors you need to consider."

In its 2019 report, the committee urged the EHRC to issue a new code setting out "clearly, with worked examples and guidance, (a) how the Act allows separate services for men and women, or provision of services to only men or only women in certain circumstances, and (b) how and under what circumstances it allows those providing such services to choose how and if to provide them to a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment."

Lady Falkner, who took over the helm of the EHRC last year, is understood to have written to Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary and equalities minister, setting out her intention to draw up the guidance by early next year. An insider said the peer had "taken the brave decision to deal with the issue head on."

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