ALMOST nine months after the Scottish Executive promised there would be no mixed sex wards in hospitals it emerged yesterday that there are still 34 wards where male and female patients are sharing sleeping, toilet, and bathing facilities.

Patients' organisations, opposition MSPs, and nursing representatives last night described the situation as disgraceful and criticised the executive for breaking its promise to end mixed sex wards by April 2002.

Campaigners believe some hospitals are using mixed sex wards to fill empty beds to keep waiting lists down.

The potential risks of mixed sex wards were highlighted in 2000 when an 83-year-old woman died a week after allegedly being assaulted by a male patient on her ward at the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy, Fife.

Latest executive figures for October 2002 reveal that despite (pounds) 4.8m being allocated three years ago to scrap mixed sex wards, 34 out of Scotland's 1630 wards are still used by both men and women.

This means that approximately 60,000 patients each year are in mixed wards.

Hospitals in the Lothians have 20 mixed sex wards - the highest number in Scotland and more than the rest of the country put together. Tayside has four, while Argyll and Clyde and Greater Glasgow have three. Grampian has two and Dumfries and Gallo-way and Fife each have one.

Brian Monteith, Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, wrote to Malcolm Chisholm, the health minister, last month to find out the scale of the problem. Mr Monteith said: ''Promises have been given and consistently broken by health ministers. Abolishing mixed sex wards is well overdue. It's a disgrace in this day and age that patients can't expect privacy and dignity in hospital wards.''

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP health spokesman, said: ''Mixed sex wards should be a thing of the past by now. They are yet another example of a broken pledge by Labour on health.''

An executive spokeswoman said that 98% of Scottish wards had met the requirements of a working group of staff and patients representatives set up to review progress and recommend action to eliminate mixed sex wards.

The executive said those hospitals which did not meet the requirements, normally where new hospital provision is being provided, for example at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, protocols had been agreed with the local health council to ensure privacy and dignity was safeguarded.

However, these guarantees have not reassured patients' organisations or the nursing profession which have been campaigning for a number of years for single sex wards.

James Kennedy, Scottish secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ''We have consistently supported the phasing out of mixed sex wards in Scotland. We believe that the privacy and dignity of patients must be safeguarded. The Scottish Executive's target for all mixed sex wards to be phased out by April last year was not met. It is totally unacceptable that they may now continue to exist in some areas until 2007.''