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Nurses vote to end private cleaning in hospitals

29 April 2008

Nurses at the Royal College of Nursing conference in Bournemouth have overwhelmingly voted for a motion proposing an end to contracting out cleaning to private firms . They have called for hospital cleaning to be brought back in-house to tackle hospital infections.

Cleaning contracts have been outsourced since the 1980s and about 40% of hospitals now use the private sector. Nurses at the Bournemouth conference said it had led to a drop in standards and a rise in infections. May McCreaddie, a nurse from Glasgow, said private cleaning firms did not have the public sector ethos of in-house teams and there was higher staff turnover which contributed to poorer performance

CSSA Rejects RCN Call to Return Cleaning In-house
Speaking following the announcement of the RCN’s conference vote, CSSA Director General Andrew Large said: “Today’s vote by the Royal College of Nursing to campaign for an end to contracted out cleaning flies in the face of the reality of hospital cleaning today. Without contract cleaning, UK hospitals would be in a lot worse state than they currently are.”

Some 60 to 65% of UK hospitals are in-house cleaned. Despite this the UK has one of the worst healthcare associated infection rates in Europe. In the recent “deep clean” programme – contract cleaners were brought in to support in house teams that could not cope with the work. Most importantly, without fundamental improvements in hand hygiene, bed management and antibiotic prescribing practice no amount of cleaning, whoever does it, is going to make a difference to infection rates.

The real issues are common to all NHS cleaning operations, be they outsourced or in-house. They are the under-resourcing of cleaning, low prioritisation of cleaning by NHS Trusts and a lack of screening and segregation of patients with infections. Unless these issues and the others mentioned above are resolved then the situation will not improve.

Andrew Large concluded "n February, an NHS Cleaning Summit brought together all of the key players in hospital cleaning, to look for shared solutions to the current issues. This is a collaborative exercise that recognises that it is better to work together for the good of patients rather than engage in futile arguments about state ownership. t would be much more constructive if the RCN were to put its weight behind these efforts rather than playing to the gallery.”

Mark Fox, BSA Chief Executive, speaking in support of the private sector’s role in providing cleaning services to the NHS rejected the conference’s motion, said: “The RCN conference is wrong to have voted to end the private sector’s involvement in providing cleaning services to the NHS. This is a backwards looking move that will undermine the public’s confidence in their commitment to seek the highest standards for patients.Outsourcing a service to the private sector should not mean the public sector abrogates its responsibility to effectively manage and monitor the service procured. There is no evidence to suggest that outsourcing cleaning services causes increased rates of infection. Indeed the private sector has led the way in developing new and innovative technologies to ensure the highest standards of cleaning.”

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