Coronavirus has exposed the conditions facing NHS cleaners


Coronavirus (Covid-19) has exposed ongoing issues faced by cleaners in the NHS, with staff cuts and low wages.

This comes as coronavirus patients in hospitals rise, with NHS employees emphasising the importance of proper cleaning.

Staff cuts

According to the NHS’s Estates Returns Information Collection, there are almost a thousand fewer cleaning staff in the NHS in 2019/20 than in 2010/11.

GMB Union called for “urgent investment” in response to the figures.

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, said:

The NHS couldn’t function without its cleaning staff. They have been saving lives, often at real personal risk, since day one of the pandemic.

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Our members tell us that they are overworked, underpaid, and denied access to the right PPE. Some cleaning workers are put under pressure to complete jobs without enough time or the right equipment.  

She added:

These cuts weakened the NHS and meant that services were vulnerable when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

As we enter a third lockdown, it is more important than ever that NHS cleaners receive the resources, pay, and decent employment standards that they deserve.

Low pay

According to the Office for National Statistics, ‘cleaners and domestics’ earn a median average salary of £17,819 per annum. The median average salary for all full-time employees in 2020 was £31,461.

In a study, researchers found that nearly 40% of NHS trusts contracted out their cleaning services from 2011 to 2014.

When cleaning contracts are outsourced, private companies control cleaners’ wages, often paying them less than they would receive as NHS employees.

Protests against conditions

Cleaners at Lewisham Hospital protested against their employer ISS after it forgot to pay their wages in March 2020.

At the time, a housekeeping worker from the hospital told South London Press:

It has been disgusting the way they treat us.

We are working with coronavirus in the hospital and not getting paid for it.

If we don’t clean the ward it is a state and we have a chance of catching coronavirus here.

Back in 2019, outsourced workers, including cleaners at St Mary’s Hospital, went on strike against pay and conditions. In response to the strikes, they were eventually brought into the NHS, meaning they would receive higher pay, as well as NHS sick leave.

The importance of hospital cleaners

Research has previously concluded that cheaper cleaning provided by private companies is associated with lower quality cleaning and worse healthcare outcomes.

After cleaner Eileen Landers, who worked for University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust (UHDB), died of coronavirus in April, UHDB chief executive Gavin Boyle told the BBC:

The importance of the role Eileen and her colleagues perform simply cannot be overstated.

Featured image via Flickr/Aqua Mechanical

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  • Show Comments
    1. Since the Blair years cleaners were cut sacked from the NHS but they do a valuable job yet whots left have a mountain to climb has of their workloads wages a pittance yet we allowed conservative governments to rid the once glorious NHS of them and now we pay a price for allowing it to happen

      1. I supplemented my main job salary quite a few times years ago, and worked as a cleaner in NHS hospitals, as an NHS worker. Received excellent training, think I have a BTec equivalent somewhere. When I saw how ward floors and offices were cleaned some time later, both visiting and as a patient. all they were doing was moving the dirt around! The mop wasn’t wrung properly, water not changed! I think since, the specialism (for that is what it is) has been brought back in house.

    2. CV19 seems also to illustrate The Canary’s role in the information war in Ukania. While I applaud its attitude to the destruction of the fabric of our Welfare State, I was surprised to see an article dating back as far as 23/12/20 that appears to have garnered the interest of one comment. Whereas a more recent article dated 6th January 2021 that had elicited fifteen times the amount of comments, which suggests much more engagement by readers (and subscribers) has been completely removed! Very Stalinesque.
      We all know the Tories have been A**F*cking the NHS for forty years. It appears they have moved on to the rest of us now. I’m not a ‘denyer’ but I’m tired of being ‘fed a line’ especially by people who profess to be speakers of truth not disembling propaganda.

      1. Somewhere along the line I forgot what links the two issues highlighted in my comment. The ONS use the phrase ‘underlying cause’ as a justification of attributing a death as a CV19 death. Reading that phrase and combining it with the facts that many positive CV19 patients were shipped into Care Homes because of bed shortages in the NHS, which then inflated the ‘normal’ mortality rate of many vulnerable people in those Care Homes – especially during April 2020. It could be argued that the underlying cause of those, if not many more, deaths is and was the constant reduction of NHS bed-space since 1978 by the Tories – who were the managers of our social fabric for all but 13 years since that date. Given that Noo Labour has been labelled ‘Tory Lite’ one could add the dead to there list. PS I don’t think the ONS uses the term ‘underlying’ correctly, which may be due to coroner’s and GP’s misuse. WTF knows!?

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