20 January 2005 | Cara Whitehouse
Public-sector procurement practices have come under fire once again after Unison linked falling standards of hospital cleanliness with the contracting out process.
According to a spokeswoman for the public-sector union, cost reductions and tendering processes have favoured price over quality.
"Because contracts go to the lowest bidder, jobs, hours and pay are cut," she said.
"But it is a false economy. As staff numbers have fallen, MRSA [or "superbug"] cases have risen and we believe there is a link."
Her comments follow publication of a report, commissioned by Unison, which not only linked cost-cutting and the contracting out of hospital cleaning with declining standards but also with an increased risk of infection.
It prompted Dave Prentis, Unison's general secretary, to call for the government to end contracting out.
He said that infection rates had "soared" as cleaning staff numbers had declined.
According to the union, cost-cutting drove the numbers of NHS cleaners to a low of 55,000 in 2003-4, down from around 100,000 20 years ago.
But CBI, the employers' group hit back at the claims as "totally untrue", issuing research that showed 11 of the top 20 acute hospital trusts rated for cleanliness used contract services.