Hospital cleanliness fears voiced

PATIENTS could be put at risk of dangerous infections due to "desperately low" staff numbers in the cleaning department of a major Suffolk hospital, it has been claimed.

PATIENTS could be put at risk of dangerous infections due to "desperately low" staff numbers in the cleaning department of a major Suffolk hospital, it has been claimed.

The grim warning came yesterday as Unison representatives described the situation at the West Suffolk Hospital as "terrible", with only one housekeeper covering as many as five different areas each nightshift.

However, officials from the Bury St Edmunds' unit say its wards have "never been cleaner", with more man hours now dedicated to ensuring the building remains germ-free.

They disagree with a staff estimation that the team of cleaners is 28 workers short – despite calls for immediate action by those working on the ground.

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"The staff are very frustrated and angry and this situation just makes you want to bang your head against a wall," said Gill Robertson, a member of Unison's National Executive Committee.

"The situation is terrible. We are now often down to one housekeeper to a ward and think we are about 28 people short. We are just desperate to know what to do next.

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"We are afraid about increasing infection because we just cannot keep up the standards that we would like. We want this hospital to be the cleanest in the country but we cannot do it when we are being cut back with staff."

Union members at the hospital claim the unit's predicted deficit, which stood at £4m in November, could have had an impact on staff numbers – leaving some cleaners covering two wards and three departments single-handedly during the nights.

"The housekeepers work their socks off for this hospital but at the moment, there will be six people working on 19 wards on Christmas Day. It is going to put terrible stress on them," said Peggy Brame, a Unison representative at the hospital.

"This has got to have an effect on the patients, as we are not cleaning the wards to the standards we want to be.

"We are doing the best we can and it is all we can do, but it is not enough and it is not what the patients should expect – yet it is not our fault.

"We have to go round with a positive attitude and a smile on our faces as far as the patients are concerned, and it is getting very difficult to do that. We are doing the best we can but it is not good enough."

But officials at the unit said the trust does not agree with the estimation the staff are 28 short, cited by Unison, adding: "We think the hospital has never been cleaner."

A spokesman said: "We have increased the number of whole-time equivalent posts by 14 people since the housekeeping services were taken back into trust management.

"We have also reduced the level of absence through sickness, which has brought the level down and released the equivalent of another three to four people.

"This is particularly relevant when it comes to housekeepers who had been tasked to work at night or weekends. The trust has rescheduled the workloads to move much of the cleaning work expected to be done at these unsocial times to normal working hours.

"This means that we do not need as many housekeepers on duty at night and weekends."

The spokesman added that independent inspectors had noted improvements in the cleanliness of the hospital, with the West Suffolk's rating rising from "poor" to "acceptable" after a recent visit.

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