Nurses' dirty and unsafe working conditions are disrupting patient care – Labour

'Extent of pest infestations and crumbling NHS buildings are legacy of underinvestment'

'Extent of pest infestations and crumbling NHS buildings are legacy of underinvestment'

There were 12,000 pest control calls from trusts in England in 2015-2017. Picture: iStock

NHS staff are caring for patients in hospitals that have leaking roofs, broken sewage pipes and vermin infestations.

Of the 143 English trusts that responded a Labour Party Freedom of Information request, 71% had experienced leaking or broken roofs, 60% reported broken or leaking sewage pipes and 95% had contacted pest control services in 2015-2017.

Labour blames chronic underfunding of the health service for the maintenance problems. The Department of Health and Social Care said the claims were misleading' adding that there had been a recent major investment programme in buildings.

Findings included:

  • 3,500 damaged roofs.
  • 678 broken or leaking pipes.
  • 12,000 calls to pest control.

Some trusts appeared to have far more problems than others, with Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust reporting 777 pest control cases compared with the average of 121 per trust.

But the trust said the figure was 'misleading' and it had actually dealt with 388 requests related to suspected pests over the two-year period. The total figure of 777 includes proactive pest preventative measures, a trust spokesperson said.

'We operate from around 50 sites, some of which have several buildings, and as part of good practice, there are four routine preventative maintenance visits to each site every year,' the spokesperson said.

Rodents and cockroaches

According to the Labour analysis of the trusts that reported pest control incidents, 70% reported rodents, 29% reported cockroaches and 24% needed to get rid of fleas.

Airedale NHS Foundation Trust had the highest incidence of leaky roofs, with 314, compared with an average of 47.1.

The trust's subsidary company AGH Solutions, provides estastes and facilities services, pointed to the way the building was shaped as the cause of the higher than average roof leaks. 

Managing director David Moss said: 'The high number of leaks is due to our large flat roof area – around 40,500 square metres – which dates from 1970,' he said.

Mr Moss added work had also recently been undertaken to address the issue, including a £110,000 maintenance and repairs project which had seen a 'significant' decrease in leaks in recent months.

Blocked sewage pipes

In the Labour analysis Ipswich Hospitals NHS Trust had the highest number of recorded blocked sewage pipes with 94 incidents, compared with the average of 12.3.

Shadow health minister Justin Madders said: 'With the government diverting resources from maintenance budgets to keep everyday services running, vital repairs are not being carried out, creating unsafe work environments which are already disrupting patient care.’

Mr Madders added: ‘The government urgently needs to take action to tackle these dangerous conditions.'

RCN national officer Kim Sunley said nurses had the right to work in a safe environment, even in the face of budget cuts.

Greater investment

‘Nurses and other healthcare staff should be able to care for patients in a safe and well-maintained environment,’ she said.

‘Cuts to NHS budgets must be biting hard if some trusts cannot afford to carry out effective maintenance and pest control, but there is no excuse for subjecting patients and healthcare staff to unsafe conditions.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'We recently announced one of the largest infrastructure investments in NHS history – £760 million for major projects including new buildings, wards and beds – so these claims are simply misleading.'

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