Mixed-sex wards need to be phased out, says Wells
Mixed-sex hospital wards are "universally unpopular" and need to be phased out, the vice chair of Stormont's health committee has said.
Jim Wells was responding to a Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority report published on Thursday.
It said a single policy on treating hospital patients in mixed-sex wards was needed across all of Northern Ireland's five health trusts.
Mixed accommodation occurs daily in some trusts, but not at all in others.
The RQIA praised the Southern and Western Trusts for their zero tolerance approach to mixed-sex wards.
Daily incidences in the Belfast, South-Eastern and Northern Trusts were found.
The RQIA said the situation was less clear than in England, where men and women on wards is mostly unacceptable.
The report by the independent body follows a three-year study.
Mr Wells said new hospitals had made mixing gender accommodation a thing of the past and he was hoping for resources to make sure this was continued in all Northern Ireland hospitals.
"All the contact I have had with patient groups said we must phase these out immediately," he said.
"It is a problem of capacity, there are times when the amount of bed space does not match the sex ratio within the hospital.
"If you have got a situation were you either have to treat someone or not at all it is obviously preferable to do it in a mixed sex ward."'Clear policy statement'
RQIA chief executive Glenn Houston said the three trusts where mixed gender wards were reported said it only happened when single sex accommodation was not available.
He said the Department of Health must "develop a clear regional policy statement on care in mixed gender accommodation".
"RQIA also recommends that the Health and Social Care Board and Public Health Agency, when initiating programmes to improve performance targets or patient flow, should consider any unintended consequences on the quality of the patient experience," he added.
In England, hospitals must ensure patients share sleeping, bathroom and toilet facilities only with people of the same sex.
This applies to all wards except intensive care and A&E, and hospitals face fines if they do not meet the required standards.