Cleaners claim MRSA danger

ALLEGATIONS of serious failures in the systems designed to reduce the spread of the deadly MRSA superbug were today aimed squarely at Ipswich Hospital.

ALLEGATIONS of serious failures in the systems designed to reduce the spread of the deadly MRSA superbug were today aimed squarely at Ipswich Hospital.

On the day Dr John Reid told The Evening Star there was nothing to worry about with Suffolk's health system, workers from inside the hospital have claimed patients are being put at serious risk because cleaners employed to prevent the spread of MRSA are not adequately disinfecting themselves before entering sterile wards.

Cleaners from the hospital's Cleaning Action Team (CAT), which deals specifically with the cleaning of rooms used by patients with MRSA and other infectious diseases, believe they are putting the public at risk by carrying out basic cleaning as well as their infection control duties.

The men, who are employed by contractors OCS, did not wish to be named for fear of losing their jobs.

One employee, Cleaner A, said: "I've just had enough - we're just carriers.

"We're expected to go into A&E and we go into the paediatrics area with the exact same clothes on.

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"If A&E is too busy we're getting jobs to do to empty ash trays, we're getting jobs to do high dusting, low dusting. We're carrying the infection on.

"We're going into kiddies wards. It is very worrying."

But bosses at the hospital insists they are "doing very well" in combating the spread of the dangerous bug.

The cleaners said that when they were first employed they underwent specialist training on how a bay should be cleaned to ensure all surfaces were disinfected.

However they say other hospital staff have repeatedly been seen entering areas being cleaned for MRSA without protective clothing and without washing down afterward.

"On one occasion we did an MRSA clean in one of the bays and we're not allowed to clean any of the machines. We had a machine on top of one of the bedside cabinets and a nurse walked in and moved it for us. She didn't even use any gloves or anything," he said.

"We see this every day, day-in and day-out."

Another CAT cleaner said he had seen similar instances which he felt could have put other patients at risk of infection.

"Personally I think people are being put at risk. I wouldn't want to stay in there at the moment.

"I see everything first hand. I see how slack some of the wards are. It's just simple things like moving a cupboard out of the way. We move a cupboard and find it's filthy behind it."

The cleaners say they are instructed not to alert other patients to the possible presence of MRSA in a bay or room.

"If a person has got MRSA they have already moved them (when we clean) but you have got another five people in that room," Cleaner A said.

Cleaner B added: "If we're asked about what we're doing we say we're just doing spring cleaning. We mustn't upset the public."

The cleaners say the uniforms which they wear throughout their shift and to travel to and from work in are covered in dust particles which they believe could carry infections.

Cleaner B said: "We've made it clear we think we should have a shower and change clothes when we go in and out of rooms. It's the usual response of 'we'll get back to you'."

Both OCS and Ipswich Hospital disputed this fact and stressed shower facilities were available to staff.

A spokeswoman for OCS said: "At no time are OCS employees asked to put themselves at risk. All the appropriate protective clothing is provided and it is the responsibility of the employee to ensure they adhere to the strict standards expected by OCS and Ipswich Hospital."

She said the company works closely with the hospital to ensure high standards of hygiene and cleanliness, and that all staff are given a full induction and ongoing specialist training by the hospital's infection control nurses.

"Every member of the Cleaning Action Team has access to disposable protective aprons and gloves, available on every ward, plus head covering, mask, goggles and cover-alls as and when required," the spokeswoman said.

"All of the Cleaning Action Team have clean uniforms available and should they wish to shower, facilities can be made available at a number of locations across the Trust, although this has never been requested."

Jan Rowsell, spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital, said it was "doing very well" in the battle against MRSA.

"I think it is important to say that what we are dealing with here are purely the perceptions of a few people, and of how MRSA is passed on," she said.

"All our staff wear protective clothing where appropriate.

"Infection control is a huge priority for us. We take it very seriously and we are doing very well in reducing the rate of infection."

Ms Rowsell added: "We have a big campaign to try to reduce and limit infection and all staff are frequently and clearly reminded about basic house-keeping and basic hygiene.

"As part of the ongoing work to create brighter and safer wards all of the wards are being deep cleaned, disposable curtains have been placed round all of the beds and we now have a bed steam cleaning centre."

Have you or someone you know contracted MRSA at Ipswich Hospital? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to

MRSA stands for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus.

The Staphylococcus Aureus bacterium is found in 20-30 per cent of the noses of healthy people and is also commonly found on the skin.

Most strains can be effectively treated by antibiotics but MRSA is resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics.

There were 52 cases of MRSA at Ipswich Hospital between April 2003 and March 2004 - the equivalent of one in every 5,000 patients staying overnight.

The bacterium is usually confined to hospitals and, in particular, to vulnerable or debilitated patients.

The best way to prevent the spread of the antibiotic resistant bug and other hospital-acquired bugs is by careful hand washing and through the isolation of infected patients.

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