Page last updated at 11:21 GMT, Monday, 14 January 2008

Q&A: Deep cleaning

The government's deep cleaning programme has come under attack.

What are ministers trying to achieve with it and will it work?

hospital cleaner
The deep cleaning is part of a strategy to reduce superbugs

What is deep cleaning?

Slightly different methods are being applied by hospitals across the country.

But, generally-speaking, it involves emptying wards to allow staff to carry out a more comprehensive clean than would be done by the day-to-day teams.

This could involve wall-washing, dismantling and cleaning of beds, and cleaning behind radiators and light fittings.

Cleaners are using equipment such as steam cleaners and ultrasonic cleaning, which is done in specially-designed chambers for delicate equipment.

Hydrogen peroxide vapour, a powerful, but highly flammable disinfectant, is also being used. Machines are place around wards to release the vapour.

It is believe to be particularly effective at combating Clostridium difficile.

How quickly is it happening?

The programme was announced in September by Gordon Brown.

The 1,500 hospitals in England - and that includes each one from the small community hospitals to the large acute trusts - have to have the process finished by the end of March.

The deep cleans really only got going in earnest over Christmas and therefore cleaning firms say just a fifth of hospitals have made a start.

At the moment, cleaners remain confident that the deadline can be met, but have warned hospitals need to act quickly as the process can take several weeks for the biggest hospitals.

Will it work?

Experts remain unconvinced about how effective it will be at reducing infections.

A recent report in the Lancet medical journal said the programme lacked scientific evidence and was just an example of the government "pandering to populism".

And leading microbiologists have weighed in, pointing out the effects of the deep clean would only last a few weeks.

Even the NHS Confederation, which represents hospital bosses, has its reservations.

It said its members were sceptical about the process and were not convinced it would cut infection rates.

But the government maintains it will have a lasting impact with Health Secretary Alan Johnson saying it would help to reassure the public.

Ministers have also pointed out that it forms just one part of their overall infection strategy, which includes MRSA screening for patients and extra infection control nurses.

How is it being funded?

This has been at the centre of much debate. The government routinely describes it as new money.

But the opposition parties disagree.

Documents show that regional health bodies called strategic health authorities have provided the money.

This means that hospitals have not had to find the cash to pay for the deep cleaning, but it is far from new money, says the NHS Confederation.

The SHA reserves are basically funds held back from NHS trusts so arguably they should have already have been invested in services.

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