Bedford Hospital chief exec ‘unable to sign pledge’ to protect cleaners’ jobs

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Bedford Hospital entrance

Cleaners from Bedford Hospital are unsure of their future following the news that domestic services could be outsourced.

While the hospital denies the claim that it’s planning to ‘market test’ its cleaning services, UNISON members were told a different story at their meeting with senior management staff.

A delegation of cleaners met with hospital chief executive, Stephen Conroy, to ask him to sign a pledge, agreeing to retain their services.

At the meeting, Mr Conroy said he was unable to sign the pledge. This had led to uncertainty, particularly in light of the proposed merger with Luton & Dunstable Hospital, who outsourced their cleaning services in 2015.

The Trust has told staff it cannot afford to pass on nationally agreed NHS pay rises, which are fully funded by the Treasury, and so is looking for ways to cut costs.

“They [cleaning staff] went to bosses earlier this week asking for a pledge to quash the rumours about their service being sold out of the NHS,” said UNISON Eastern regional organiser Winston Dorsett. “Instead they were told their fears could come true.”

“It would not only be bad news for the cleaning staff. This could do real harm to patients as profit-hungry private companies come in looking for ways to cut corners.

“Bedford Hospital bosses say they’ve not made any decisions but they’re still willing to leave this threat hanging over the heads of staff and patients.”

The pledge:

We, the cleaners of Bedford Hospital, work hard every day to ensure this hospital is clean and safe for our patients, the public and the staff.  A lot of us have been working here for more than 20 years and we are proud of the work we do. 

However, as the Trust is looking to save money we are worried that they may decide to target the lowest-paid workers doing very physical and essential work at the hospital. We find this deeply unfair, just because we are mostly migrants and low paid doesn’t mean that we will accept our standards being lowered. 

We don’t want to be the target of more cuts, lower standards or precarious conditions and we firmly and politely request the Trust not to outsource us before or during the possible merger as the cleaners in Luton & Dunstable hospital. We and our families count on our jobs and current conditions to live a dignified life.

Targeting migrant service workers and our colleagues at this time, in which many of us are facing Brexit and should be supported, is unacceptable.  We are essential to the wellbeing of the hospital and we need the respect we deserve. Please work with us to ensure that we can preserve our current working conditions. 

Bedford Hospital’s high quality of cleanliness has been recognised by the Department of Health, which has designated it an exemplar site for its Patient Environment Action Team standards.

In a statement to the Bedford Independent, a spokesperson for the hospital said: “Bedford Hospital NHS Trust would like to confirm that no decision has been taken to outsource our domestic (cleaning) services at this time. and no papers have been submitted to the Joint Staff-side Management Committee (which includes Trade Union representatives) or the Trust Board on this matter.”

Cllr Louise Jackson, executive member at Bedford Borough Council for health & wellbeing said: “Bedford Hospital has a very dedicated, professional and experienced team of domestic staff and I am supportive of their campaign.

“Hospital cleanliness is of paramount importance and I am firmly of the opinion that hospital services should not be outsourced.

“I hope that when the chief executive takes the concerns of domestic staff to the hospital board, they will agree that cleaning must remain in house.”

“There is evidence that hospitals with outsourced cleaning contracts have higher rates of infection, and even if savings could be made by contracting out services, this could very well be a false economy if the hospital is not hygienic as a result,” added Mohammad Yasin MP.

“It would be the wrong choice entirely. Unison are right to raise concerns and I’m calling on the board to make a firm pledge not to outsource our Hospital’s cleaning service.”