Shadow Health secretary Andrew Lansley announced that within five years of a Conservative government, patients will have the right to choose a single room. This was the major policy announcement of Lansley’s speech, which hit at the Labour government for healthcare-associated infection rates and also attacked its failure to end mixed-sex hospital ward accommodation.

Lansley promised “the choice” of single-room accommodation in all hospitals: “within five years under a Conservative government, every patient will be given a choice to book a single room, every hospital will have single isolation rooms, and every expectant mother will have access to a single room.”

Lansley said: "By giving NHS patients the choice of a single room when they book their operation, we will ensure that they will be treated with the dignity they deserve. Any stay in hospital is a traumatic and trying time. We hope that the proposals we are announcing will make a big difference in removing unnecessary stress for patients and their families."

This would be funded by reallocating money in the capital funding budget, which the Conservatives say last year was underspent by £2.9 billion. The Conservatives’ financial plans suggets that this initiative will cost around of £1.5 billion to amend hospitals in this way.

Practical effect
Single rooms in hospital wards would increase by 45,000 during their first term in government, to nearly 100,000. The proportion of beds in single rooms would increase from 28% to 55%.

Lansley also suggested that all maternity and mental health patients would be allocated a single room, and later added that 35% of single rooms would be for those admitted to hospital for an operation.
This will present significant challenges on a number of practical fronts.

Hospitals built under the Private Finance Initiative that has prevailed since 1997 will incur uncapped and unpresictable management charges for structural alterations from the companies who run the buildings and facilitiues.

Moreover, Lansley will have now power to force the managers of the semi-indpeendent NHS foundation trusts to aleter their premises without changing primary legisation – and in effect renationalising them.