Health Minister Edwin Poots has insisted that robust procedures are in place to tackle the pest problem in Northern Ireland’s hospitals.
His comments come in the wake of a Belfast Telegraph investigation which revealed how experts had been called out hundreds of times to deal with insects and vermin.
Rats, mice and fleas were among pests found in hospital wards, kitchens, maternity units and medical storerooms.
The findings, which health campaigners branded “truly revolting”, have prompted calls for urgent action to improve hygiene.
Mr Poots was unavailable for interview yesterday. However, in a statement to this newspaper, he insisted every precaution was being taken by hospital staff to address concerns.
“I need to be confident that all facilities are as clean and hygienic as possible,” he said.
“The health and social care system is a network of organisations with over 70,000 staff and a very large buildings estate in both rural and also urban settings. It is in operation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Across the network there are thorough cleaning and maintenance systems in place, and this includes robust pest control measures.
“However, as with any round-the-clock operation of this magnitude anywhere else in the world, it unfortunately attracts pests.”
Mr Poots said it was impossible to eradicate pests completely.
“Therefore, it is important that all the trusts have a rapid and robust system of dealing with pests,” he added. “This is why staff across the trusts are constantly vigilant and encouraged to report every suspected incident.
“Early alert leads to prompt action when required. The vigilance of staff and early intervention by pest control specialists ensures that any suspected pest activity is dealt with as soon as possible.”
According to documents released after Freedom of Information requests, over 1,700 sightings of pests were recorded by the five health trusts between April 2009 and March this year.
Found in our hospitals:
- A couch infested with fleas in a maternity unit within the Royal Group of Hospitals
- Reports of rats in the Royal maternity and children’s wards
- Rats, mice and cockroaches at Holywell Hospital
- Sightings of rats in a tea room at Lagan Valley Hospital
- Cockroaches found where endoscope equipment — used to examine inside the body — was stored at Lagan Valley