Todayâ€™s alarming report on the Dr Foster Hospital Guide about our under performing NHS trusts – based on a range of indicators including death rates, infection rates and staffing levels – reminded me of something worrying I learnt at the Infection 2009 conference earlier this month.
Dr Peter Wilson, consultant microbiologist at University College London Hospital, told me that because of insurance reasons, cleaners were only allowed to clean walls, floors and tables in the wards. Nurses were expected to clean everything else which had been in contact with the patient, and often in their own time, which naturally they were reluctant to do.
â€œTake the case note trolleys, they are never cleaned,â€ he said.
â€œWe need to change the way our hospital cleaners work in the UK. We need a new breed of cleaner, one who is trained to clean all high contact surfaces immediately around the patient.
â€œItâ€™s because of the insurance culture, in case somebody presses a wrong button, but they could be trained to learn about this. We need somebody to take up the banner.â€
I met a trainee nurse at a party last night who told me their ward sister told them not to clean anything in the ward, that it was down to the cleaner. However, the cleaner has a different brief, and this demonstrates a clear lack of joined up thinking which has potentially serious repercussions. The issue cannot be left if hospitals have to clean up its act. Surely this is more important than pushing for our nurses to be trained to degree level, when we are not getting the basics right.
Letâ€™s hope Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley will take up the banner. It clearly makes sense to have fully trained cleaners who can effectively do a job which the public expects of them so nurses can be left to do the job they are trained for.