Before Christmas there was a lot of fuss in the press about dirty hospitals. The new NHS inspection body, the Care Quality Commission, had highlighted shocking issues at Basildon University Hospital — dirty commodes, curtains, and equipment; blood stains on trays. How common is this experience and why does it happen?
Take the ward where I work. We pass all such inspections with flying colours, yet some of the problems highlighted in the CQC report we’ve experienced too.
For the most part we have pre-announced inspections. We know what the inspectors are going to look at — the underside of commodes, and whether or not mattresses leak. Inspectors get a snapshot, they see a perfect ward. But most of the time conditions are different. Managers only go round unzipping mattress covers when they know what’s coming. Generally they don’t emerge from offices.
No-one wants to be treated on a filthy ward, and people don’t want to nurse in a filthy environment either. Most of my colleagues prefer to keep patients and their surroundings clean.
But it’s a fact of life that caring for sick people is an extremely messy business.
To clean up all the bodily fluids that are produced by the ill, it is necessary, more than anything to have lots of highly motivated cleaning staff. Staff who are employed by the hospital, who are well paid, and who feel part of a team working for a cleaner hospital.
Another thing that might help would be for the NHS to stop cramming patients in up to the rafters.
In some countries in Europe they aim for less than maximum bed occupancy, because it’s hard to do things like clean a bed properly when there’s someone occupying it!
It’s hard to isolate infectious patients when all the side rooms are already full.
But in today’s NHS. where Trusts get paid per procedure, a filled bed equals “efficiency” equals greater income. Leaving beds empty makes no financial sense to Trust Boards which monitor financial health almost as much as the health of their patients.
So what can socialists do about the ongoing problems in our hospitals? It’s a crazy twisted system that the NHS operates within — until the logic of seeing illness as something that can be made profitable is challenged, then bizarre priorities will continue to mean that tick-box forms take precedence over investing in cleaning staff.
In the meantime, workers organised in unions continue to campaign against the contracting-out of staff, and the general cuts that are looming.
Socialists need to support and lead campaigns against cuts in the NHS. The poorest paid staff, in this case cleaning staff, are always among the first to suffer, and in this case it is clear the patients cannot afford for that to happen.