The fight for
 sanitation standards

One of the biggest challenges the cleaning industry has faced in recent years has been sanitising the nation’s hospitals in the face of huge budget cuts.
    
The deadly organisms and bacteria that can develop and spread quickly in hospitals, such as MRSA, C. diff, Norovirus and CRE, have become a huge issue for all stakeholders, and have even led to emergency measures from the government.

Deep cleaning
In the early 2000s infection rates increased to worrying levels, leading then prime minister Gordon Brown to order a deep clean of each of the UK’s 1,500 hospitals. Not everyone, though, was convinced about the merits of a deep clean. Some experts claimed that the government was just pandering to populism. A report in the medical journal Lancet said at the time that the deep clean programme lacked ‘scientific evidence’, adding that the effects would only last a few weeks.
    
The cleaning industry was also sceptical of the government’s motives for the deep clean. The Cleaning and Support Services Association (CSSA) said that more day-to-day thorough cleaning would have prevented the need to do the deep clean in the first place. They placed a lot of the blame on budget cuts that, they said, simply went too close to the bone. Keith Sammonds of the Health Facilities Consortium, the body that oversees hospital cleaning, warned that the £897 million allocated for the cleaning of hospitals in 2011-2012 was 15 per cent below what was needed to keep wards safe.
    
More worryingly, it started to emerge that nurses were often being used to clean wards and toilets where there wasn’t sufficient funds to provide a round‑the‑clock cleaning service.

This practice of using nursing staff to clean is not only professionally wrong, as it impacts on patient care, there is also huge potential for dangerous infections to spread due to untrained staff simply not having the time to do the job thoroughly.
    
Against this backdrop of superbugs, budget cuts and political intervention, the cleaning industry has been quietly getting on with the job of keeping the nation’s hospitals as clean as they possibly can be. But the public and politicians have to be constantly reminded that healthcare cleaning is a highly skilled activity and requires the appliance of science, as well as the correct use of equipment, chemicals and human resources.

New technology
On the whole, cleaning contractors have risen to the challenge set by the government in observing new higher standards, but many have gone way beyond that, finding new ways of working as well as bringing the latest technological innovations on-board as they become available.
    
One example of this is a hand hygiene system, which features a chip in a camera that can tell if an operative has washed their hands properly. It registers the various stages of hand washing and once all stages are complete a green light appears.
    
Another new system that’s proving useful is one that can track patients’ movements around the ward and allows cleaning staff to know exactly where that patient has been. This can be a huge time saver, and means no new patient needs to be admitted to a potentially contaminated bed.
    
One of the biggest areas of change for cleaning has been the greater use of microfibre in the health sector, as it helps to prevent cross-contamination. New designs have made cleaning products far more ergonomic which makes them easier to use, and much easier to clean, for instance operatives now have the opportunity to use two-sided mops, and more mobile scrubbing machines.
    
Digital innovations have also found their way into the cleaning industry with new IT systems bringing changes in working practices, enabling managers to schedule cleaning activities around other hospital activities and patients occupation levels.
    
With so much scrutiny now on hospital cleanliness, the trend is now for cleaning contractors to work much more closely with hospital staff, like ward sisters and infection control personnel. This can help with efficiency, as managers and supervisors on the ground can use staff where they are most affective.

Assisting health professionals
Working as closely as possible with the hospital seems to be the key to running a successful operation. At Hull Royal Infirmary, the Association of Healthcare Cleaning Professionals (AHCP) recently recognised Mitie in its annual awards for their innovative approach and for ‘working in partnership’ with the hospital.
    
Mitie’s success in Hull has been built around integrating closely with nursing staff, building up close working relationships, i.e keeping the same cleaners looking after the same areas each day, and by becoming an integral part of the hospital team.
    
The other key component at Hull has been put down to staff training, with over 85 per cent of cleaners on site trained to NVQ levels, and all supervisors required to take a management qualification.

This integrated approach, together with modern technology, new working practices and qualified staff helps to keep infection levels down, meets all government guidelines – in many cases going much further – and also enables the contractor to enjoy a great working relationship with the hospital.

Working around austerity
With the general election now just a year away the NHS will be one of the key battle ground issues, and hospital cleaning should be at the fore front of that debate – with the huge strides made by the cleaning industry in the battle against the superbugs heard loud and clear.
    
As we have discussed, new innovations and working practices have led to a significant fall in infection levels, but with budgets set to be tight whoever wins the election, we must make sure that healthcare cleaning is high on the list of priorities for those who hold the purse strings.
    
We have come too far for complacency and without the dedication and professionalism of the cleaning professionals infection rates could rise once again.
    
Only experienced and specialised cleaning contractors can deliver the services that can prevent deadly superbug outbreaks. Only they have the knowledge and access to technology that can deal with this problem. And, considering the consequences both financial and reputational to an outbreak, politicians and healthcare managers should not take their eye off the ball for one moment.

Further information
britishcleaningcouncil.org

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