• University Hospital Lewisham staff walk out over pay dispute
  • Trust has restricted visitor access amid coronavirus concerns
  • Contractor ISS blames ‘administrative error’ and apologises

Cleaners at a London hospital have walked out over a pay dispute just as the service braces for a surge in demand due to coronavirus.

Union GMB said around 60 cleaners, porters and catering staff stopped working at University Hospital Lewisham, which is run by Lewisham and Greenwich Trust, on Thursday after private contractor ISS failed to pay their wages in time.

Staff were meant to be paid on 27 February after the contract was ratified earlier that month, according to GMB. ISS said the incident had been an “administrative error”.

The row comes as the trust restricted visiting at both its hospitals to one person at a time amid concerns about coronavirus. It confirmed a case of coronavirus at its other site, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, on 9 March.

ISS managing director of healthcare Chris Ash said: “The error with pay affected a limited number of staff who moved to a new pay system, after we took over the contract for these services from the previous provider last month.

“We are extremely sorry that this has happened and are reaching out to those staff to apologise in person, and to quickly sort out any pay issues they have.”

Mr Ash also said ISS has apologised to staff and were trying to resolve the issue by making emergency payments immediately available for those affected. He added: “It is important to note that the issue has not affected the service we provide: we continue to maintain high standards of hygiene at the hospital, with cleaning, portering and catering services provided as normal to patients, staff and visitors.”

GMB organiser Helen O’Connor said the workers walked out following a “row” over the pay dispute and said it “could not have happened at a worse time”.

She said: “For many of these workers, missing just one pay cheque means not being able to pay the rent, or put food on their families’ tables.

“They are at the end of their tether following weeks of their pay being short. Now today they get no pay at all.”

The dispute comes as the UK enters the “delay” phase of its coronavirus pandemic strategy. A total of 1,391 cases have been confirmed across the UK, according to the Department of Health and Social Care, and 35 patients have died after testing positive for covid-19.

UPDATED. 16 March at 09.46: This story has been updated to include the latest coronavirus figures and the day for when the cleaning staff were said to have walked out over the pay dispute.