By Oliver Farrimond
SCOTLAND’S hospitals are being plagued with infestations of bugs, mice and cockroaches – sparking furious calls for more money to be spent on cleaning up the NHS.
An investigation has revealed the problem is so bad in places that one health trust – NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde – has had to spend more than £70,000 in the last year alone on exterminators and other defences.
The total is twice as much as the next highest authority, and the total number of incidents runs to more than 1,000 since the beginning of August last year.
But expert microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington said that pest problems were such an extent that it could be a sign that some of Scotland’s best known hospitals “might not be fit for purpose.”
Prof Pennington, who chaired the Pennington Group inquiry into the 1996 Scottish E Coli outbreak, said: “If you have hospitals with long-standing pest control problems, then it’s a sign that the premises might not be fit for purpose.
“There is an indirect relationship between pests and how good a modern hospital is.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is currently undergoing a public inquiry after C Diff outbreaks at Vale of Leven hospital resulted in the deaths of 18 people in December 2007.
And while pests such as ants, mice and cockroaches are not known to carry the C Diff bacteria, Prof Pennington added: “It’s not pushing it to say that the two are indirectly related in terms of the quality of the premises.”
“You can also use it as a measure of how well a hospital is being run.”
But a spokesperson for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde flatly denied that the two were related, and blamed the pest plague on NHS Glasgow’s “century-old” buildings.
A spokesperson said: “Pest control has absolutely nothing to do with the incidence of C Difficile and it would be irresponsible and misleading to link the two.
“Given the large number of sites we have across Greater Glasgow and Clyde our incidents of pest infestations are always going to be larger than smaller boards in Scotland.
“These sites are complex by nature and vary in age – consequently, their pest control needs vary.
“Some of our buildings are more than a century old and, inevitably, we experience proportionately more issues in these than our newer facilities.
The news comes as the Scottish Government claimed that C. Diff and MSRA rates had reached a “record low” over the past year.
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon played down the outbreaks, and said that cleanliness was a “vital part” of infection control.
She said: “Where a pest infestation occurs it’s vital that it is dealt with quickly and efficiently to minimise disruption and ensure patients’ safety is not compromised.
“Hospital cleanliness is a crucial part of our drive to stamp out hospital infections, which is why along with other measures we have introduced new cleaning standards, invested in steam cleaners and given senior charge nurses responsibility for cleanliness in their wards.
“All Scottish health boards have in place pest control contracts to manage this common problem, and I am sure these contracts are working effectively.”
In total, figures show that Scottish hospitals have had to spend almost £170,000 in the past year on managing pest outbreaks.
The actual number could well be considerably higher, as NHS Ayrshire and Arran refused to release details of their pest control expenditure despite recording the third-highest number of outbreaks.
The authority – the only one to hold back details of spending alone – had to exterminate a huge variety of pests, including wasps, silverfish and “biting insects”, racking up more than 350 separate incidents since August 2008.
NHS Grampian also declined to hand over information, saying that the information would be too costly to gather.
Reports of pest infestations were logged in all areas of Scottish hospitals, and amongst the data released are reports of weevils in X-Ray rooms, bird remains in nurseries and cockroaches in the renal unit of a Fife hospital.
And of the 2,329 incidents reported, almost half consist of ant infestations, with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde reporting almost 500 incidents in a single year.
Margaret Curran, Labour MSP for Glasgow Baillieston, condemned the findings, saying: “This is utterly repellant and will be very concerning to patients and their families.
“When someone we love goes into hospital we have a right to expect that they will be treated in clean and safe conditions.
“The idea that our hospitals are infected with mice and cockroaches is simply unacceptable.
“Nicola Sturgeon needs to get on top of this and support staff instead of cutting budgets and piling pressure on our doctors and nurses.”
Willie Bain, Labour’s candidate in the Glasgow North East by-election, added: “This just shows that we can’t trust the SNP with our NHS in Glasgow.
“Not only are they giving Glasgow the worst health settlement in a decade – they are starving the Glasgow NHS of the resources needed to keep mice and cockroaches out of wards.”