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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 June, 2004, 08:10 GMT 09:10 UK
Hidden camera exposes hospital hygiene

By Danielle Glavin
BBC News Online South East

Old stains on the walls
Old stains are streaked down the wall in the A&E resuscitation room
Bloodied gowns left on trolleys, clinical waste bags dumped in corridors and old stains on walls are not what you want in a hospital.

But in seven days while working undercover as a hospital cleaner in Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, I saw them all and worse.

I applied for a job with the in-house cleaning service at the Kent and Sussex Hospital after BBC South East Today received complaints about its hygiene - questions had also been raised about cleanliness standards in several official reports.

During my time at the hospital I saw patients exposed to possible infections, a culture of laziness and hospital policies being breached - even by some in-house supervisors.

Buttonhole camera

On 4 May armed with just 45 minutes practical training, a fake past and a tiny camera in my buttonhole I became the latest Accident & Emergency (A&E) department cleaner.

A month earlier I had asked the in-house domestic management team employed by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Health Trust if they needed cleaners.

I was invited to a short interview and then sent to see the occupational health nurse who said I was fit enough to work as a trust employee.

On my first day as I emptied bins, swept and mopped I noticed old blood stains ingrained on the floor.

Danielle Glavin
With a fake reference and a button hole camera I started work

I also saw unlocked sharps bins containing used needles lying in corridors - I was never told where to store them or how to handle them.

Clinical waste skips, which contain bags full of old dressings and bodily fluids, were left open in corridors used by visitors and patients, even though the hospital's own policy says they should always be locked.

The clinical waste skip I had to use also filled up quickly so rubbish bags had to be left on the floor - when I asked a supervisor what to do with them I was told to leave them beside the skip.

In A&E's operating theatre, a blood-stained gown was left on a trolley for 24 hours and used medical instruments were discarded in a sink for a day.

On a window ledge in the same theatre I found such a large build up of old dirt that I had to use a dustpan and brush to clean it.

In the resuscitation room, an old stain was streaked down a wall - I tried to clean it but it was so old it would not shift.

I saw the same poor standards day after day and found some of the cleaners who were meant to fix the problems slacking.

Some stood in the A&E storeroom reading newspapers, others would leave their wards to come and talk to me, another sat in the changing room half an hour before her shift ended.

Some took extended tea breaks and would routinely leave early.

Clinical waste in the corridors
Bags of clinical waste and sharps bins piled up in the corridors

Supervisors were aware of problems but seemed powerless to stop them.

Hospitals all have a hand-washing technique to cut the risk of spreading infections between patients - a crucial stage of this is drying hands on paper towels.

When I realised A&E was running low I was told I would have to wait for the next delivery in three days time as there were no reserves of hand towels left in the hospital.

A nurse said this was unacceptable but luckily an emergency supply arrived the next day.

A supervisor told me some domestics were putting patients at risk of cross infection by not washing their water jugs in hot soapy water - she said she kept telling them how to do it but they did not listen.

On a ward where four of the patients were being barrier-nursed to stop infections spreading I saw it happen.

The cleaner collected the jugs from every patient and simply swilled them in cold water before re-filling and randomly returning all but one of them.

I asked if they should be washed and she replied: "If you like but in the morning they wash them in very hot water so in the evening I don't bother."

Dirt was found underneath baskets containing sterile equipment

The footage was shown to Professor Hugh Pennington, one of the UK's leading microbiologists, he said, "It's a dirty hospital, the worst I've ever seen and it's putting the lives of patients and the lives of staff at risk."

In response to the investigation Rose Gibb, who took over as chief executive of the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust six months ago, said: "I accept the hospital has standards that are poor.

"I acknowledge that, I have made that clear to my board.

"We're investing, we are making radical changes, it takes time to get sustained improvement, and I will not stop until I get the standards that I believe the population deserves."

Miss Gibb said patients were not being exposed to unnecessary risks, she said: "You have no more risk of acquiring MRSA at the Kent and Sussex than at the average hospital in London. "

She said the hospital would be up to scratch in nine months time.

Next year BBC South East Today's cameras will be going back to see if that pledge is met.

The BBC South East Today Undercover report can be seen on BBC One on Monday at 1830 BST or for viewers outside the south east region on digital channel 953.

Secret film of 'dirty' hospital
13 Jun 04 |  England


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