Union publishes cleaners’ views on hospital debate

Trade union Unison has produced a report on how employers can help cleaners to keep hospitals clean.

The report documents issues that cleaners say prevent them from doing their jobs and includes a 10-step guide on what needs to be done to ensure hospitals remain clean and infection-free.

The report quotes the concerns of cleaners such as, “you are reduced to cleaning the toilets once a day”, and “I could go straight from cleaning the toilets to giving out teas; I can’t change my uniform”.

The cleaners also refer to a range of other issues including lack of equipment and proper cleaning products, the shortage of isolation facilities for superbug MRSA and the difficulty of having to clean during extended visitor hours.

Among the suggestions for cleaner hospitals are requests for more hours, better resources, training for all and a greater priority given to cleaning services.

The report suggests 10 steps to cleaner hospitals:

  1. Prioritise cleaning services from the top level of management downwards, including medical professional staff. Without proper standards of hygiene in the wards, clinics and operating theatres, it is impossible for clinicians to deliver high quality, high-tech medicine

  2. More staff, more hours – we need a complete reversal of the drastic reductions in staff and hours of work imposed by private contractors and in-house NHS services, as a result of competitive tendering

  3. More and better resources – choice of cleaning materials should be based on effectiveness, not cheapest. Hospitals need adequate supplies, properly maintained equipment, staff changing rooms and sufficient uniforms and protective clothing for infection control

  4. Staff involvement to ensure contracts match needs – new contracts must be properly resourced and strictly monitored by qualified staff

  5. Effective teams – cleaner hospitals cannot be secured simply through the existing staff working harder; any improvement must be a team effort

  6. Respect and improving communication – action is needed to combat divisive or elitist attitudes towards cleaning staff that often leads to cleaning staff being “invisible”

  7. Training for all – appropriate training in cleaning techniques, health and safety and infection control

  8. Giving scope to respond to criticism – any system that urges the public to complain about standards must be balanced by an opportunity to respond

  9. Bring cleaning services back in-house – experience in the NHS shows 20 years of failure as a result of the market testing

  10. Better pay and conditions – need to address the high turnover and intolerable vacancy levels evident from many cleaning services.

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