Cleaning staff back under NHS control

Cleaners are looking forward to working under the NHS umbrella. Picture: PA

Cleaners are looking forward to working under the NHS umbrella. Picture: PA

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HOSPITAL cleaners at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary are set to be brought under the control of the health board as part of the ongoing fight against superbugs.

Negotiations are under way to move 300 domestic staff from private company Cofely to NHS Lothian for the first time since the hospital was built in 2002.

It will mean the cleaning of wards, corridors, offices and toilets will soon be carried out by NHS employees – in line with other hospitals across Scotland and the Lothians.

The Scottish Government previously called for health boards to phase out the use of controversial contract cleaning services in a bid to reduce the spread of infections.

The measure was not enforced at the ERI because the PFI contract entitled Consort to run domestic services, which are currently provided by private company Cofely.

Inspection reports show the hospital has consistently scored well and cases of MRSA have almost been eradicated.

But the Evening News reported earlier this month how cases of C difficile in Lothian hospitals were on the rise despite national rates plunging to the lowest ever levels since monitoring began. The trend led experts to be drafted in from Health Protection Scotland to assist the board in meeting future targets.

NHS Lothian bosses said talks were at an “early stage” but they were hopeful cleaning staff will be brought back under their umbrella within months.

George Curley, director of operations facilities at NHS Lothian, said: “We are in the very early stages of looking in to the possibility of bringing domestic staff under the control of NHS Lothian.

“Our domestic staff provide a really important service and by bringing them in-house we feel it would improve capability and benefit patient care.”

However, Maggie Cornwall, who has worked as an NHS cleaner for 19 years, said most staff were still keen to move back to the health service.

“It was like that before this new hospital opened and there’s quite a few of us who are looking forward to it coming back to the NHS,” she said.

“I would like to be part of the NHS family again. A lot of the wards managers think we are part of the team already but this would make it official.”

Tom Waterson, Unison branch chairman for Lothian, welcomed the move – on the proviso staff jobs are safe.

He said: “At other hospitals the domestic staff are part of the ward team and it seems to work better. Staff are proud to wear the NHS uniform.

“Obviously, we will be seeking assurances that the all jobs are retained and decent terms and conditions.” 
Edinburgh Southern MSP Jim Eadie, who has called for a government investigation into the ERI contract, “warmly welcomed” the development.

He said: “It’s absolutely right that this important part of the NHS should be brought in-house.”