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Was the deep clean worth it?

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Has the ‘deep clean’ proved a major step forward in infection control or just a publicity stunt, asks Helen Mooney

Last week the government announced that all but 13 of England’s 170 acute trusts had hit the end of March deadline to ‘deep clean’ every hospital in the country.

In total 93% of trusts completed the process in the three-month time frame time set by ministers. The Department of Health said the others had started the cleaning programme and would finish it in the ‘near future’. Final data on the programme’s completion is expected later this month.

The high profile of the exercise has attracted close scrutiny from the media and opposition political parties.

The Conservatives, based on a Freedom of Information enquiry, have claimed that just £15.6m – 27% of the total £60m supposed to be allocated to the programme – has
actually reached trusts to pay for it.

But not all the programme’s publicity has been negative – many trusts that have met the deadline have been praised in local newspapers.

However, the programme has been dogged by criticism since it was announced last autumn at the Labour Party conference by prime minister Gordon Brown.

Andrew Large is director-general of the Cleaning and Support Services Association, a member organisation for the cleaning industry. He voiced concern that, without a long-term central plan, the deep clean ‘risks being seen as a publicity stunt’.

Judy Potter, president of the Infection Control Society, described it as merely a ‘marketing exercise’.

‘It is really too soon to say whether the deep-cleaning exercise has been successful,’ she said. ‘It depends on how thorough it has been and it is important to bear in mind that it is only one element of infection control.’

She suggested that the exercise would not have been a waste of time as long as it was incorporated into existing infection control measures.

One deep clean alone would not reduce infection rates – it should be done annually as part of a routine package of measures, she said.

‘This exercise was ill thought out, the period of time in which to do it was too short – there needs to be a plan to have an annual deep clean taking place in hospitals throughout the year,’ she said.

Health secretary Alan Johnson said last week that the deep cleaning programme ‘in general’ would continue.

He made this statement despite an original DH pledge that the deep clean would have to be fully evaluated to see if it was effective and practical before a decision on repeating it was taken.

‘I expect hospitals to continue the good work that they have started and ensure that deep cleaning is an integral part of their routine cleaning plans,’ he said, although he made no mention of extra funding.

It could be too early to tell whether the deep clean programme has been a genuine infection control success but it appears that it could become a regular fixture on the NHS calendar because of its high public profile.

As Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘The deep-clean programme has raised the bar in the standard of cleanliness expected in hospitals.’

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