A Sydney Morning Herald report on 7 May states, ‘if the number of cleaners at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital is not increased there could be an abrupt surge in patients being infected with potentially deadly antibiotic-resistant ”superbugs”.’ Not only does this convey the severity of the siutation caused by the dispute, but also recognises the important role cleaners play within our healthcare system.
On the back of the ongoing dispute between contractor ISS Health Services and the union, ’medical staff have complained the slashing of cleaners and other support staff by [the] private contractor left patients exposed to bacterial infections such as ‘golden staph’ and Klebsiella because there are not enough clean rooms and beds.’
On Friday 4 May, ‘the Industrial Relations Commission ordered the NSW government to examine cleaning staff levels at the troubled hospital. The Health Services Union said at least 60 cleaners need to be re-instated to reach required hygiene levels.’
According to a leading infection expert, ‘without rigorous ”environmental cleaning” – the cleansing of all surfaces and materials a patient may have touched – there is a greater risk of vulnerable patients picking up hospital-acquired infections.’
‘A professor of epidemiology in healthcare infection at the University of NSW, Mary-Louise McLaws, said environmental cleanliness is particularly important when patients with multiple-resistant organisms are on the wards.’
”You need sufficient staff to be able to ‘terminal clean’ once those patients leave that bed,” she said. ”There has to be enough cleaners to properly clean the patient environment including the floors, the locker and bathroom.”
According to the article, ‘the NSW Nurses Association said a patient with the highly infectious superbug Staphylococcus aureus, or golden staph, was left in a corridor at Royal North Shore Hospital because no clean single room was available.’
An ABC News article posted by Brendan Trembath from 7 May states ‘the New South Wales Government says the hospital is difficult to clean because of its age’.
NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner has responded, saying the building is very old and “at the end of its life”, and there are a number of challenges.
“We’re moving into a new building by the end of this year which will be a totally different story,” she said.
However, the long-running dispute with the contractor ISS Health Services, which has the cleaning contract for the hospital, must be resolved first.
The article claims that Skinner says the number of cleaners has been increased. “They’ve put on an extra 20 cleaners, there’s much better prioritisation of the cleaning process, it’s about better organisation,” she said.
But ISS Australian chief executive, Dane Hudson, says the Royal North Shore dispute is complicated. “The situation is back in 2007, when we bid on this contract, there were less than 600 beds in the hospital. Now there are close to 740 beds in the hospital,” he said.
“So that’s the issue, that there’s 140 more beds in the hospital and that means there’s more patients, which means there’s more cleaning, there’s more portering, there’s more movement.”
‘He says the company wants more money if it has to hire extra cleaners, and the longer the dispute drags on, the more damage is done to the hospital’s reputation.’