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It’s long been accepted that the regular and expert cleaning of our hospitals and the equipment in them, is an essential part of the public health strategy for helping prevent Healthcare Acquired Infections - and over the past year, for trying to keep Coronavirus under control too. Yet new figures published by NHS Digital show that the full-time equivalent of almost 1,000 NHS cleaners, (both directly employed and outsourced) have been cut in England since 2010/11. And incredibly, the amount spent by NHS Trusts on cleaning services fell by £38 million in real terms – a decline of 3.4%. GMB, the union for NHS workers, has called for urgent investment to reverse these cuts to cleaning services – and it hasn’t come a moment too soon.
“The NHS couldn’t function without its cleaning staff,” says the GMB. “They have been saving lives, often at real personal risk, since day one of the pandemic. Our members tell us they are overworked, underpaid and denied access to the right PPE. Some are put under pressure to complete jobs without enough time or the right equipment. These new figures confirm that a scandalous £38 million has been taken out of NHS cleaning budgets in real terms, while hundreds of NHS cleaners have lost their jobs. These cuts weakened the NHS and meant that services were vulnerable when the pandemic hit. As we enter a third lockdown, it is more important than ever that NHS cleaners receive the resources, pay and decent employment standards they deserve.”
It’s not just about poor pay for the work and conditions involved though, is it? Working in a hospital apparently increases your risk of infection by a factor of three. But this risk isn’t evenly spread. Tests carried out in many hospitals over Summer showed that it was not the ICU consultants or infectious ‘red zone’ clinical staff who had the highest infection rates, but red zone cleaners and porters. Their risk of infection was double that of their clinical colleagues and I wonder whether this may be partly down to the cleaners having to work with inadequate PPE.
It’s hard enough going home exhausted at the end of your shift, but to also be worrying that you could be taking home Covid-19, must be incredibly worrying. I do hope Government realises that greater investment must quickly be made in NHS cleaning services, as I’d hate to think what would happen if the cleaners and porters - knowing that they have GMB backing, decided to persuade a reluctant Government to by downing tools.
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21st January 2021