Published: 20/06/2002, Volume II2, No.5810 Page 9

Growing numbers of trusts are considering bringing their cleaning services back in house in response to the government's spotlight on 'dirty hospitals' and ongoing wrangles over the rights and rewards of outsourced staff, HSJ has learned.

Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals trust has abandoned its cleaning contracts with ISS Mediclean following concerns about cleaning standards, staff morale and problems with recruitment and retention. The contract with ISS Mediclean had already expired and was on a temporary extension.

Last month, about 250 staff were brought in-house following a sixmonth notice period, with the trust investing£1m in improving pay and conditions. Since then, the trust has received calls from several trusts looking for advice on how to do the same.

Two weeks ago, Homerton University Hospital trust admitted the 'justice' of a campaign by its cleaning staff currently working for ISS Mediclean to raise pay and improve conditions.

Although the trust board has refused to meet the demands - claiming it cannot afford the estimated£2m price tag - it said it will review the Mediclean contracts when they come up for renewal in 2004.

ISS Mediclean confirmed that it was aware of 'a number of trusts' which were looking to bring cleaning back in-house. A spokesperson told HSJ the company recognised problems around pay and conditions, which in some areas had been improved to fit with local economic circumstances. He said: 'It is an issue we have been discussing. We are aware of a number of trusts [looking to bring staff back in-house].'

But the spokesman expressed concern as to whether decisions were being taken because of 'ideological reasons which we feel are not justified'.

'We really want to know the grounds on which these decisions are being made. If it is simply on best value, then we would like to know how best value is being established so we can compete on a level playing field.'

He said that Mediclean had to work within the financial constraints of existing contracts: if more money was available in some contracts, workers' pay and conditions would improve.

Head of facilities at Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals trust Trevor Payne said that since the decision was taken to bring services inhouse, about half a dozen trusts who were 'seriously considering' bringing services back in-house had got in touch for advice.

He said the trust had found the results of the change in provision 'worthwhile' and added: 'I certainly believe other trusts will be following our lead in the next 12 months.'

Mr Payne stressed that he was not against the idea of private contractors in principle: 'Our catering is contracted out and it has been extremely successful. But in some areas it doesn't always work in the way it should.'

Unison said the current indications were part of a 'sea change' in the provision of contracted-out services, which demonstrated that the policy of using private providers for soft services was a 'failure'.

NHS Confederation policy human resources manager Alistair Henderson said that although the actual arrangements for the provision of domestic services were unchanged, the Department of Health was not as keen 'to push contracted services as it has [been] over the last 10 years'.

And Mr Henderson flagged up 'the basic recognition that integration between clinical services and cleaning staff is a lot easier on a human resources level, when staff are not working for an outside organisation'.