Baillie, Sturgeon, Leonard and Queen Elizabeth UH, which has been plagued by infections, but has an army of 440 cleaners.

By Bill Heaney

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, yesterday denied that there was any staffing crisis in the NHS.

And revealed that an army of 440 cleaners are employed currently in the so-called “dirty” Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which takes patients from West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute.

She told Labour leader Richard Leonard that there are record numbers of people working in the national health service.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Staffing levels in NHS Scotland are now at a record high and are up by more than 13,600 since 2006, just before this Government took office.

“The number of consultants is up by 51 per cent; the number of qualified nurses and midwives is up by 8 per cent; and there is a higher level of NHS staffing per head in Scotland than there is in NHS England.

“Our NHS staff of course work under considerable pressure, and we are grateful to them for the job that they do, but we will continue to invest in our NHS to ensure that there are record numbers of staff, so that they can continue to deliver the excellent services that they do.”

Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee, following the tragic events at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, began its inquiry into infection control standards earlier this week.

Mr Leonard said: “New figures released to Scottish Labour this week reveal that the number of domestic staff—that is, cleaners—who are employed at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital is falling.

“In March 2018, 464 cleaners were employed at the hospital. According to the latest figures, that number has dropped to 440.

“Why, at the very point when it is facing a rise in infection outbreaks, is Scotland’s biggest hospital employing fewer people on the front line whose job it is to keep that hospital clean and safe?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “It is absolutely imperative that all health boards in all hospitals ensure appropriate numbers of domestic and cleaning staff.

“It is of course for health boards to consider the configuration of staffing.

“There has been a significant change in the configuration of Glasgow hospitals over the past number of years, and the overall staffing numbers will undoubtedly reflect that.

“We will continue to raise issues directly with health boards to ensure that they are addressed where that is necessary.

“Notwithstanding the very serious incidents at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, I welcome the Health and Sport Committee’s inquiry into these issues—infection rates are down considerably in Scottish hospitals overall.

“I see that Jackie Baillie [MSP for Dumbarton and Lomond] is in the chamber. She and I regularly used to have exchanges about the levels of Clostridium difficile in our hospitals, following the tragic incident at the Vale of Leven hospital. C diff, MRSA and infections generally are down, in some cases by more than 80 per cent.

“Let us tackle issues where they arise—Richard Leonard is right to raise them—but let us not lose sight of the good work that has been done in our NHS to reduce infection and to put a real focus on patient safety.”

But Mr Leonard countered: “I should also make it clear that the problem is not unique to one hospital: it is replicated right across the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.

“There are fewer domestics, porters and laundry and linen staff compared with last year’s levels. It is clear that we have a staffing crisis in our health service, and that it is not confined to consultants, nurses and midwives but extends to facilities staff, domestics, catering workers, porters and laundry staff—all workers without whom no hospital can operate.

“We know that there is a parliamentary inquiry and that reviews are being carried out by the health board and the Government. However, these issues are serious and urgent. The public, and the staff who are under pressure, need to hear a commitment that the reduction in such vital front-line jobs will be reversed as soon as possible.”

The First Minister responded: “We will continue to work with health boards, including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, to ensure that they have appropriate staffing levels across all specialities in the NHS. That is important. I repeat what I have already said: record numbers of staff are working in our national health service.

“I do not think that anybody could doubt the seriousness of the Government and the health service when it comes to tackling infections in our hospitals.

“Overall, the figures state that things are going in the right direction, but that does not take away from the need to tackle serious incidents when they arise. We will continue to do exactly that.”

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