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Last Updated: Monday, 14 January 2008, 00:08 GMT
Hospital deep cleaning under fire
By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Hospital bed
The deep cleaning programme is costing 50m
The need for the 50m deep clean of hospitals is being questioned by two groups at the heart of the process - NHS managers and cleaning companies.

Firms carrying out the deep cleans ordered by the government in England said it would have done better to fund day-to-day cleaning properly.

The NHS Confederation, which speaks for managers, pointed to scepticism over whether infections would be cut.

The Department of Health said deep cleaning was only part of its campaign.

Other initiatives in the pipeline include MRSA screening for all hospital patients and extra infection control nurses.

But it is the deep cleaning, announced by the prime minister last year, that has attracted the most attention.

The country's 1,500 hospitals, including major acute trusts, district general hospitals and community facilities, have until the end of March to complete the programme.

We have picked up a degree of scepticism from a number of our members about this
Nigel Edwards
NHS Confederation

Leading academics have already questioned how effective the process will be, with the Lancet journal accusing the programme of lacking scientific evidence and the government of pandering to populism.

But opponents of the deep cleans have been joined by representatives of the companies who, alongside in-house cleaning teams, are responsible for carrying them out, and of the managers responsible for overseeing them.

Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: "We would like policy to be based on evidence and we have picked up a degree of scepticism from a number of our members about this.

"We would not want to see relatively new hospitals being deep cleaned; it would be a waste of money."

And Andrew Large, the director general of the Cleaning and Support Services Association, which represents hospital cleaning firms, questioned the NHS approach to cleaning.

About 40% of hospital cleaning services are outsourced to companies. Mr Large represents many of these firms, which are also being asked to carry out deep cleans.

Budgets

He said: "What we have seen over the last few years is hospitals squeezing the cleaning budgets.

"When they are up for renegotiation we are being offered less and being told to clean things less frequently.

"For example, where we would perhaps have cleaned the tiles every week, it may be every two weeks from then on.

"It sounds like only a little thing, but when it is applied to everything it makes a difference. If this had not happened I think infection rates would be lower.

Patients would much rather have really good day-to-day cleaning
Joyce Robins, of Patient Concern

"So it now seems ironic to us that we are being given contracts to carry out these deep cleans.

"You have to wonder, if the cleaning budgets had not been cut would this be necessary? There is disruption to patients as wards have to be emptied.

"In my view, it would be a better use of money - and I think our members would prefer it - if the day-to-day cleaning was funded properly."

Joyce Robins, of Patient Concern, also agreed with the criticisms.

She said: "Deep cleaning just seems like a gimmick. Patients would much rather have really good day-to-day cleaning."

HAVE YOUR SAY
What the NHS seems to be getting is an expensive spring clean, after which it will revert to it's previous poor standards
Clarence Threepwood

Christine Beasley, the government's chief nursing officer, said hospital infections were not just about hospital cleaning and the other measures being introduced would be essential.

But she said it was important to get both the day-to-day cleaning and deep cleaning right.

"Nationally, we expect the highest standards. This is one of our top five priorities and I would be very surprised if chief executives in each hospital were not looking very closely at what goes into the budgets."

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