Public service union Unison has called on the Government to employ more cleaners in the NHS, to address rising levels of hospital infection.
Unison estimates that in 2003-4 the number of cleaners in the NHS fell to 55,000, down from about 100,000 20 years ago.
This has led to recruitment and retention problems, high staff turnover and poor morale, all of which affect the quality of hospital cleaning services, according to the union.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Let’s get more cleaners on the wards and around our hospitals and make them part of the NHS infection control team.
“This is the only way that we can make sure staff are properly trained and flexible enough to deal with any problems quickly.”
Prentis also called on the Government to scrap the use of cleaning contractors.
“The Government has admitted that contracting out cleaning services has led to falling standards of hospital hygiene,” he said. “Prevention is better and cheaper than controlling infection, and resources should be directed towards increasing staff, better education and training, as well as improving and maintening wards.”
A spokesman for health secretary John Reid told the Guardian that the drop in numbers of cleaners was not disputed, but that Department of Health figures showed that in 1986 there were 88,000 cleaners.
He also said the size of the NHS estate had reduced by 20 per cent in the past two decades so there was less space to clean.