IPSWICH: An investigation is today under way at Ipswich Hospital after mouldy cleaning bottles were discovered – sparking fears the substance inside could put patients at risk.

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Gummer blasts cleaning firm chiefs

On my regular visits to the hospital, in my surgery and talking to people on the doorstep, I have heard time and again of the poor treatment of your staff by your company, of your harsh working practices and of your failure to provide the right equipment for them to do their job.

I have had several reports from ISS employees about how their wages are docked for small errors, such as arriving at work a minute late or leaving 30 seconds early.

I have also heard complaints about the equipment the staff have to use. They say that the disinfectant is gradually decreasing in strength and the staff are forced to use mouldy spray bottles.

The cleaners, catering staff and other staff at the hospital, employed by you, are some of the most dedicated people at the hospital. They work unsocial hours, often doing thankless tasks, for very little money. They are at the frontline of keeping the hospital clean, free of infection and operating smoothly. The very least that they should expect is to be given the tools to do their jobs, to be motivated, and to be treated with dignity and respect – not as automatons without feelings or interest in their work.

I am sorry to write in so strong a manner to you but my concern about the practices of ISS is so great that it is all I feel I can do. I will be releasing this letter to the local press.

Ben Gummer, Ipswich MP

Senior managers at the Heath Road trust took immediate action when the bottles were handed to them by cleaning staff working for ISS, who took over the multi-million pound cleaning contract at the hospital in October 2010.

Tests are ongoing but Jan Ingle, hospital spokeswoman, said at this stage the substance is not thought to be harmful to patients.

One whistleblower told The Star he and colleagues first found the bottles in May.

He said he raised concerns with his supervisors, questioning whether the cleaning fluids inside the bottles were strong enough to properly clean the hospital if they were allowing bacteria to grow inside the plastic.

ISS response to Gummer’s letter

A spokesman said: “We have received Mr Gummer’s letter and will respond directly once we have investigated the claims made in it.

ISS has a strong culture of looking after its people and treating them with respect. We operate an “open door” policy to whistle blowing and a comprehensive staff survey, again anonymous, that allows all our employees to provide us feedback on their experience of working for ISS. We are unaware of any mismanagement at Ipswich Hospital.

“We fully agree with Mr Gummer that our staff providing services such as cleaning, portering and patient catering are some of the most dedicated at the hospital, and indeed within the NHS as a whole. Without their hard work and commitment, the hospital would be unable to function.

“With the hospital, we monitor the services closely and we are confident that the levels of cleanliness are meeting those required by the national standards defined by the NHS.”

“We were worried that patients could be at risk,” he said.

It comes as Ipswich MP Ben Gummer blasts ISS bosses in an open letter for their management of staff and highlights the concerns members of staff have raised with him that equipment is not up to standard.

The letter states: “I have heard time and again of the poor treatment of your staff by your company, of your harsh working practices and of your failure to provide the right equipment for them to do their job.”

Trust spokeswoman Mrs Ingle said the safety of patients is “our top priority” and added that the trust takes “any concerns about cleaning and cleanliness very seriously”.

“We took action straight away and investigated the concerns raised by a very small number of staff in one specific area of the hospital about spray cleaning bottles found with mould growing inside them,” she said.

“This action included thorough testing of the bottles to determine whether the substances in the bottles were harmful. The tests are ongoing and at this stage it is not thought the substances to be harmful to patient safety.

“The contract we have with ISS, the company who provide cleaning, catering, portering and security services at the hospital, sets out clear standards for each service.

“Cleaning and cleanliness are monitored throughout the hospital several times a day to ensure the standards are being met.”

An ISS spokesman added: “We take our role at the hospital very seriously and are totally committed to ensuring a safe, clean environment for patients, visitors and healthcare professionals alike.

“Ongoing auditing has shown that we continue to meet all cleaning standards as defined in the national specifications for cleanliness set by the NHS.

“We are aware of these specific claims and are working closely with the Trust. We continuously monitor both equipment and cleaning chemicals and know that there have not been any shortages or risk to patient care on the site.”

n What do you think about the cleanliness of the hospital? Write to health reporter Lizzie Parry at Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail lizzie.parry@archant.co.uk

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