At the Conservative Party conference on Tuesday, Health Secretary Steve Barclay announced he will open a consultation on amendments to the NHS constitution, seeking to bring forward the changes.
The move, which has been slammed by trans rights campaigners, would also bar trans men from using male wards.
Mr Barclay said it would also ensure patients’ requests to have intimate care provided by someone of the same sex are respected.
The Health Secretary told the conference in Manchester he had already undertaken similar work, pointing to an intervention on “unacceptable changes to the NHS website that erased women from conditions such as cervical cancer”, and stopping the NHS from making staff declare their pronouns.
He went on: “Today I am going further, by announcing that we will change the NHS constitution following a consultation later this year to make sure we respect the privacy, dignity and safety of all patients, recognise the importance of different biological needs and protect the rights of women.”
Under NHS guidelines, trans people may be placed on single-sex hospital wards that align with the gender with which they identify.
‘Annex B’ states they should be accommodated “according to their presentation: the way they dress, and the name and pronouns they currently use”, rather than their biological sex at birth.
The steps to increase inclusivity towards transgender patients have sparked concerns from some quarters.
Tory peer Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne argued in Parliament in February that previous guarantees given to women had been “blown apart” by hospital trusts following Annex B, which she argued contradicted the guidance on providing same-sex wards.
But trans rights charity TransActual blasted the Health Secretary’s proposal on Tuesday, saying there is “no evidence of any issue arising from trans women in women’s wards”, and accusing the Conservatives of pursuing a “culture war”.
“This is an answer in search of a problem, concocted without input from any organisations representing those - trans people - most likely to be impacted by this diktat,” TransActual Director of Healthcare Chay Brown said in a statement to the Standard.
“There is no evidence of any issue arising from trans women in women’s wards. Though there have been cases of male staff abusing female patients. Also instances of trans women being abused on men’s wards.
“In other words, in pursuit of a ‘culture war’, and stirring up concerns about things that are not happening, Conservatives are again doing nothing to provide real protection for women, while making life for trans people significantly more dangerous.
“Meanwhile, they are doing nothing of any substance to rescue the NHS”.
We will change the NHS constitution following a consultation later this year
✅To make sure we respect the privacy, dignity and safety of all patients
✅Recognise the importance of different biological needs
✅And protect the rights of women.
— Steve Barclay (@SteveBarclay) October 3, 2023
Outside the conference hall, Mr Barclay said: “We need a common sense approach to sex and equality issues in the NHS – that is why today I am announcing proposals for clearer rights for patients.
“And I can today confirm that sex-specific language has now been fully restored to online health advice pages about cervical and ovarian cancer and the menopause. It is vital that women’s voices are heard in the NHS and the privacy, dignity and safety of all patients are protected.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman gave her backing to the plans, telling broadcasters on a visit to Bolton: “Trans women have no place in women’s wards or indeed any safe space relating to biological women.
“And the Health Secretary is absolutely right to clarify and make it clear that biological men should not have treatments in the same wards and in the same safe spaces as biological women.
“This is about protecting women’s dignity, and women’s safety and women’s privacy. And that’s why I’m incredibly supportive and I welcome the announcement today by the Health Secretary.”
A source close to Mr Barclay reportedly told the Telegraph on Monday the Health Secretary “is fed up with this agenda and the damage it’s causing, language like ‘chestfeeding’, talking about pregnant ‘people’ rather than women”.
“It exasperates the vast majority of people, and he is determined to take action on it,” the source reportedly said. “He is concerned that women’s voices should be heard on healthcare and that too often wokery and ideological dogma is getting in the way of this”.
Mr Barclay also used his speech to announce three new medical schools - at the University of Worcester, the University of Chester and Brunel University in Uxbridge, west London - to boost the NHS workforce as doctors across England continue strike action.
They will each offer at least 50 undergraduate places a year from September 2024.
Existing medical schools will also offer at least 55 more places from that date, with 35 more at the University of Central Lancashire and 20 at Edge Hill University. It is part of a plan to double the number of medical school places to 15,000 by 2031.
Alongside plans for a massive expansion of NHS training he will also set out a £30 million programme for the rapid adoption of new health technology.
His speech Manchester took place against a backdrop of the largest strike by doctors so far in the dispute over pay.
Junior doctors and consultants from the British Medical Association began a three-day walkout on Monday at 7am, with Christmas Day levels of cover in hospitals.