Rogue items in hospital laundry the bane of NHS Lothian’s health drive

The laundry based at St John's Hospital in Livingston.

The laundry based at St John's Hospital in Livingston.

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PUTTING more than 30,000 items through the wash is always likely to throw up few lost coins and pens.

But for NHS laundry staff, lost Teletubbies, cycling helmets, bags of urine and bright pink clogs are all part of the daily cycle.

Those are among the hundreds of “rogue items” that have turned up at the laundry department at St John’s Hospital in Livingston – where dirty clothes and bedding from hospitals across Lothian are sent to be cleaned – in just six months.

Last year, NHS Lothian attempted to clamp down on the amount of foreign objects that were turning up at the department and despite early success, numbers are on the rise again prompting the health board to issue a fresh warning to staff.

Since April, more than 500 inappropriate objects have been wrongfully sent to the laundry, including:

• 22 pairs of scissors

• 10 mobile phones

• Two rosary bracelets

• 20 watches

• A set of false teeth

• Two empty beer cans

• Nine full urine bags

• A bottle of morphine

• One pair of bright pink clogs

• Four rings, including a gold wedding band

• Seven TV remote controls

• Three soft toys, including a Teletubby

• Two blood samples

Some of the items discovered including needles and blood-soaked linen that is not properly sealed in bags, pose a safety risk to laundry staff.

Eddie Egan, NHS Lothian’s former employee director and vice chairman, said he had been attempting to sort the issue out for 12 years, without success.

He said: “A lot of effort has been made but it’s never sustained. It’s obviously not enough.

“Nicola Sturgeon has been to the laundry, the chairman has been to the laundry and the director of HR has been to the laundry, but we keep getting these rogue items.

“People aren’t trying to sabotage the laundry workers and there’s 10,000 reasons that it might be happening, but the bottom line is it shouldn’t happen and people should not put their colleagues at risk.”

On average this year, seven items a month which could potentially pose an infection or health and safety risk have been reported as arriving in the laundry, although they were scanned and identified prior to being handled by staff.

It is understood that on previous occasions when bloody items have been exposed to laundry workers, the department has ground to a halt while cleaning takes place.

On some occasions lost items were returned to the wards they had come from, but often a lack of tags meant that it was impossible to determine their origin.

Alan Boyter, the health board’s director of human resources and organisational development, said: “NHS Lothian is committed to providing a safe environment for all our staff and all instances of inappropriate items found in the laundry are avoidable. We take this issue very seriously and it is not acceptable that staff are being put at risk.

“We have strict guidelines in place to help protect our staff, and we work closely with ward staff to ensure these procedures are followed.

“On average we have managed to reduce the number of inappropriate items received but there is a fluctuating trend and we are working hard to level this out.”

CAMPAIGN FOR A CLEAN SWEEP

THE laundry at St John’s Hospital employs 85 staff, operates seven days a week and offers a constant supply of clean linen.

Around 68 million litres of water are used every year, including recycled rainwater which is used to reduce the health board’s carbon footprint.

In 2007, the health board produced a DVD to highlight the dangers in relation to handling, bagging and the labelling of laundry, while last year, charge nurses were told they must check all linen bags before they left the ward area. Specialist scanning machines in the laundry are used to detect metal and fluids before they are handled by staff, reducing

risk.

Linen soiled with blood or other bodily fluids is supposed to be tied in clear bags which dissolve in the wash.