New NSUN research report: Single Sex Spaces

White text on a sage green background with red abstract line illustrations around the edges. Text reads "Single sex spaces: trans and non-binary service users' experiences of single sex spaces in mental health settings in England, National Survivor User Network"

NSUN has today published a new research report on the experiences of trans and non-binary people on single sex wards in mental health settings in England.

Within mental health services, there is a growing call for single sex wards, as part of the push for the modernisation of the mental health estate. This follows recommendations in the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act to ensure wards are “genuinely” single sex. The White Paper on the Reform of the Mental Health Act was released in April 2021 with a clear call for single sex spaces:  

“The definition of single sex accommodation should be tightened up to ensure a genuinely single sex environment with separate access to any shared daytime space.” (Reforming the Mental Health Act, 2021).  

Through desk-based research and a survey, led by a trans and non-binary researcher, we have asked the question: what are trans and non-binary people’s experiences of single sex spaces in mental health settings in England?  

We have asked this question in order to centre the experience of trans and non-binary service users on single sex wards and to better understand what needs to change to make mental health settings safer places for trans and non-binary people experiencing mental distress. 

This research found that there is significant variation in trust policies relating to trans and non-binary service users, with gaps between trust policies and peoples’ actual experiences that indicate the urgent need for a better standard of care for trans and non-binary service users. Trans and non-binary service users face serious discrimination and harm within care settings from staff and other service users.

Our key recommendations for services are are:

  • Recognise that single sex wards are not the best standard of care for all service users, in particular, trans and non-binary service users, and take steps to assess and mitigate possible negative impact. 
  • Locate the problem in services, not in service users: ask how services and practice can change to support and include trans and non-binary service users. 
  • Name the political nature of trans health in policy, education and practice, and the ways in which the needs of trans and non-binary service users may be being neglected or undermined in services. 
  • Set out how gender-affirming care and physical health needs of trans patients in mental health inpatient settings will be met with emphasis on not being an obstacle to gender-affirming care.