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Mitie and St George's face opposition to contract plans

The plans by facilities management company, Mitie, and St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to half the number of cleaners in operating theatres in St George's Hospital in Tooting and realign roles that would see hospital cleaners also serving patients with their meals are facing growing opposition from unions.


GMB Southern members have voted to request an official strike ballot for action to fight the cuts, on the grounds that a legal redundancy situation is when the need for staff has diminished or ceased, but the union says this is not the case at St George's.


Mitie was awarded the £150 million long-term extension (to 2030) of its facilities management contract with the Trust in May, following a competitive tender process. The company previously supplied services including cleaning, patient catering and facilities helpdesk services and under the new contract also takes on waste management duties. 


GMB Southern has raised concerns over the proposed staffing cuts, saying the existing four-person domestic teams already struggle to scrub down the floors, walls, sinks and floors in theatres in the allocated five-minute time slot between operations. Under the plans, the cleaning staff will be reduced to two per area. 


Helen O'Connor, GMB Regional Organiser, says: "Any cuts to cleaning in an operating theatre are unthinkable and would almost certainly increase mortality rates on the hospital site.


"It is also of concern to GMB that we have yet to receive copies of all risk assessments signed off by St George's NHS Trust and private contractor Mitie in spite of requesting them verbally and in writing."


GMB Southern has also raised concerns over the risk of cross-contamination through the dual-role approach. HEFMA asked Mitie to clarify the procedures and training that would be put in place to mitigate this risk. A spokesperson told us: "Staff working at the Trust already multi-task as part of their role and, like any other healthcare professionals, are trained on segregation of duties, infection control and hand washing procedures to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. All our processes and working methods are based on NHS best practice, developed in conjunction with subject matter experts and approved by the Infection Control team at St George’s Hospital."


Staff are to be provided with disposable aprons, hairnets and gloves, which Mitie says is in line with the Trust's Infection Control Policy. It also points out that staff carrying out these dual roles will not be cleaning areas such as bathrooms or toilets. These tasks are carried out by separate janitorial teams.


St George’s already has an award-winning British Institute of Cleaning Science Training Centre (BICSc) on site. As part of the new contract, Mitie’s investment includes the development of a new dedicated training centre to create the catering equivalent of BICSc which will enhance these training facilities.


Mitie has also promised to deliver service enhancements as part of the new contract, including digital touch screens that will enable staff to place and monitor cleaning and catering requests, which will reduce the time spent chasing traditional helpdesks, and the latest electronic catering system that will allow patients to view nutritional and allergen information whilst ordering their meals and will also monitor food waste. 


Mitie and the Trust have also committed to uplift pay so Mitie staff receive at least the London Living Wage of £10.55 an hour.