Published: 07/10/2004, Volume II4, No. 5926 Page 9

Acute trusts will have to ensure that cleaning staff are not hired on 'cut-price' wages when they use private firms to provide their hospital cleaning.

New Department of Health guidance will say trusts must put new cleaning staff working for contracted-out services on broadly the same terms and conditions as staff transferred from the NHS.

The guidance follows a promise made by health secretary John Reid at last week's Labour Party conference in Brighton that there will be no 'cut-price, two-tier contracts signed in the NHS'.

Under current transfer of undertakings protection of employment (TUPE) rules, staff who move from NHS contracts to privately run firms have some protection of their conditions of employment. But newly hired staff do not.Currently, 37 per cent of cleaning contracts are outsourced.

Some trusts have experienced industrial action by hospital cleaners employed by private sector firms in recent months. Public sector union Unison welcomed the announcement but said it should extend to porters and catering staff as well.

A Department of Health spokesman denied that the new contract requirement would cost the NHS more money because bidders would still have to compete for contracts. He said any 'cost pressures' would be met by the increase in NHS funding.

He also said that preliminary work for the DoH indicated that there was no correlation between contracting out cleaning work and incidence of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ).

The DoH spokesman said the elimination of a two-tier workforce would be a 'gradual, structured process', which would cause minimum disruption to the NHS and patients.