Bugs, rats and fleas infesting Northern Ireland hospitals
Stomach-turning discoveries across all five health trusts prompt MLA to demand: a hell of a lot more needs to be done
Shocking hygiene lapses in Northern Ireland’s hospitals can be revealed by the Belfast Telegraph with health trusts routinely dealing with infestations of vermin – including rats, mice and cockroaches.
Pests and insects were found in wards, kitchens, maternity units, medical storerooms, offices and A&E departments, with almost 600 reported sightings in the last 12 months.
The details have been branded “truly revolting” by health campaigners and prompted calls for urgent action.
“If these hospitals were restaurants they would be closed down and out of business,” said Patients’ Association chief executive Katherine Murphy.
It comes at a time when hospital hygiene is under unprecedented scrutiny following the pseudomonas outbreak, which led to the deaths of four babies across Northern Ireland.
According to documents obtained by this newspaper, over 1,700 sightings of pests were recorded by the five health trusts between April 2009 and March this year.
Around 580 incidents were reported in the last 12 months alone.
The Northern and Belfast trusts had the highest number of incidents, with 191 and 171 reports respectively.
The incidents include:
- A couch infested with fleas in a maternity unit within the Royal Group of Hospitals;
- Reports of rats in the RVH maternity and children’s wards;
- Maggots and flies found in another part of the building;
- Rats, mice and cockroaches at Holywell Hospital – already under fire for its poor standard of repair;
- Sightings of rats in a tea room at Lagan Valley Hospital;
- Evidence of mice in a sugar bowl at Downshire Hospital;
- Cockroaches found where Endoscope equipment – used to examine the inside of the body – was stored at Lagan Valley;
- A report of rats in the X-ray and physio departments of Dundonald Hospital.
Ms Murphy from the Patients’ Association, which campaigns for improved health care, said the statistics were horrifying.
“These findings are truly revolting – how can patients be safe amid cockroaches, fleas and rats?” she told the Belfast Telegraph. “If we are serious about infection control then we need also to be serious about dealing with these pests.”
Health workers’ union Unison blamed cuts to cleaning staff and structures in recent years.
“We lost 50% of cleaning staff from the health service during the discredited period of privatisation,” said regional secretary Patricia McKeown.
“We have also seen local level health and safety structures dismantled since these super-trusts were created. You can’t do that and expect the same standards.”
Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy, who is a member of Stormont’s health committee, described the findings of the Telegraph’s investigation as unacceptable.
“To be told vermin are running around hospitals where people are attending to get well is just beyond belief,” he said. “We’ve heard so much in recent times about hygiene issues in our hospitals – particularly pseudomonas and MRSA, which were down to bad hygiene.
“Whoever is responsible for the estates – and we’re not talking about doctors and nurses in this case – need to realise this is a priority. There is a huge onus on those charged with running the estates to ensure that everything possible is done to remove vermin, because according to this a hell of a lot more needs to be done.”
Committee vice-chair Jim Wells added: “For hospital buildings in particular people rightly expect the very highest standards of cleanliness to be adhered to.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Vigilance is high across all Trusts and staff are actively encouraged to report all suspected incidents so that they can be investigated promptly and action taken if required.”
“Robust systems are in place to deal promptly with all emerging issues so that they do not cause any ongoing health hazards. Pest control is an important element of routine estate maintenance and is managed by estates teams within each Trust with appropriate contracts taken with pest control experts as required.”
Pest problems ..
2009/10: 195 sightings
2010/11: 304 sightings
2011/12: 191 sightings
Total: 690 sightings
Rats, mice and cockroaches were among the most common pests found at hospitals in the Northern Trust area.
Some 691 sightings were recorded in a three-year period – more than any other Trust area.
Rats were spotted at Holywell, Whiteabbey, Antrim Area, Braid Valley, Causeway, Mid-Ulster and Dalriada hospitals.
Other pests reported at Antrim Area Hospital (above) included bats, flies, mice, ‘biting insects’, ants and even rabbits.
And at Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, mice, silverfish and wasps were also spotted.
Last month the Belfast Telegraph highlighted poor conditions at Holywell in Antrim, and the documents reveal sightings of mice, cockroaches, birds, silverfish, red spider mites and ground beetles at the hospital.
Around £4,430 was spent on pest control, with 191 pests spotted in the last 12 months.
A Trust spokeswoman said all reports of suspected pest activity are taken very seriously.
“The Trust has a system in place to ensure that pest sightings are dealt with immediately to provide a safe environment for patients and staff,” she added. “The Trust's pest control contractor takes immediate action to deal with reported pest activity. The contractor also monitors Trust facilities every six to eight weeks for signs of pest activity, and takes the appropriate action as required.”
2009/10: 94 sightings
2010/11: 74 sightings
2011/12: 101 sightings
Total: 269 sightings
Unlike the four other Trusts, the
Western Trust was unable to provide a detailed breakdown of each pest sighting.
However, it did confirm 269 reported incidents in the three-year period, including 101 in the last 12 months alone.
According to the Trust, the most common types of pests dealt with were rats, mice, silverfish, wasps’ nests, feral cats and bats.
It also reported a “particularly difficult infestation” of bed bugs in staff accommodation at the Erne Hospital (above), which took months to clear.
The cost of dealing with pest call outs during the period was £20,353.
A Trust spokeswoman said: “The Western Health and Social Care Trust is proactive in relation to this issue of pest control and takes this matter very seriously.
“The Trust has a contract with pest control specialists which provides for routine visits each year to its facilities 365 days a year.
“Over the three years in question there were no major infestations in any of the Trust’s hospitals with the exception of a particularly difficult infestation of bed bugs in Erne Hospital staff accommodation in 2009/10.
“This was spread over a number of rooms and took a number of months to clear.”
2009/10: 53 sightings
2010/11: 94 sightings
2011/12: 171 sightings
Total: 318 sightings
Over 300 sightings of pests were recorded by the Belfast Trust in the last three years.
In one disturbing case, a couch in a maternity area was reported to be infested with fleas, while rats were also seen in children’s wards and outside a canteen.
According to call-out logs, the number of sightings has spiralled from 53 in 2009/10 to 171 in the last 12 months.
In January this year, dead flies, wasps and bluebottles were found in a ward, while two rats were spotted in a clinic last November.
An “insect infestation” was reported in a ward of Foster Green Hospital in April 2010 while rats were reported on a second ward.
Woodlice were reported in an outpatients department at the Royal and staff also recorded an “infestation of small flies” in August 2010.
Various sightings of cockroaches and flies in maternity areas are contained in the logs. Other more unusual pests included black centipedes, fruit flies and woodlice – crustaceans which are closely related to prawns, crabs and lobsters.
Dead birds, hares and feral cats were also spotted.
A spokeswoman said: “We have nothing further to add in relation to the FOI response we have already provided regarding pest control.”
South Eastern Trust
2009/10: 108 sightings
2010/11: 82 sightings
2011/12: 50 sightings
Total: 240 sightings
Cockroaches were discovered in a store where endoscope equipment – commonly used for looking inside the body – was kept at Lagan Valley hospital.
Rats were found in unspecified internal areas of Lagan Valley (right), Downshire and Dundonald hospitals.
They were also spotted in a tea room and near the clinical waste bins at Lagan Valley and the X-ray and physio department at Dundonald. According to the Trust’s logs, mice were reported in a ward, office and kitchen area of Downshire Hospital.
A wasps’ nest was discovered in an observation ward of Dundonald’s Accident & Emergency department, while silverfish were found in cubicles at the same hospital.
Fleas, ants, ‘crawling insects’ and red spider mites were also reported at various locations.
A spokeswoman said the Trust has a robust pest control policy and hospital hygiene is taken extremely seriously.
“We encourage staff to report pest infestation immediately to ensure our facilities are clean and safe at all times,” she added. “As a consequence of this, staff are vigilant and we have had 240 suspected cases which have all been fully investigated, and action taken where needed. All of this is aimed at making sure no patient is put at risk and we can confirm that no patient was harmed.”
2009/10: 72 sightings
2010/11: 70 sightings
2011/12: 66 sightings
Total: 208 sightings
Over £17,000 was spent dealing with pest control at the Southern Trust.
Some 208 incidents were reported in the three-year period, with 66 in the last 12 months.
Among the most common pests were rats, mice and insects.
There were also reports of wasps, silverfish, slugs, millipedes, flies and fleas.
There are two main hospitals in the Southern Trust area: Craigavon and Daisy Hill. The Trust was unable to specify exactly where pests had been spotted.
A spokeswoman said pest control is taken “extremely seriously”. “The Trust invests significant resources in cleaning and hygiene services each year, as required to ensure that we continue to provide a safe environment for everybody,” she said.
“The Trust has a well-established proactive pest management system in place as a key part of our commitment to ensuring we are able to provide a safe environment for patients and staff. The vigilance of staff and early intervention by pest control specialists ensures that any suspected pest activity is dealt with as soon as possible.”
A serious pest? A black and yellow striped creature, its sting can cause serious health problems and even death if it triggers an|allergic reaction in its victim.
Found where? Musgrave Park; Holywell; Antrim Area; Causeway; Braid Valley; Whiteabbey; |Dundonald; Southern Trust, Western Trust
A serious pest? Can passively transport microbes on their body surfaces including those that are potentially dangerous to |humans, particularly in environments such as hospitals.
Found where? Royal Victoria; Whiteabbey; Mid-Ulster; Dalriada; Holywell, Lagan Valley
A serious pest? Rats carry diseases including Weil’s disease, salmonella, tuberculosis, cryptosporidiosis and e.Coli. |Experts estimate there are over 60 million rats in the UK.
Found where? Royal Victoria; Forster Green; Muckamore Abbey; Belfast City; Holywell; Whiteabbey; Mid-Ulster; Antrim Area; Causeway; Braid Valley; Lagan Valley; Dundonald, Southern Trust and Western Trust
A serious pest? Ants form colonies that range in size from a few dozen predatory individuals living in small, natural cavities to highly organised colonies which may occupy large territories and consist of millions of insects.
Found where? Royal Victoria; Forster Green; Antrim Area; Whiteabbey; Dundonald, Southern Trust
A serious pest? These are wingless insects with mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood. They cause an itching sensation and can spark allergic reactions, resulting in rashes. Fleas also carry diseases including viruses and bacteria.
Found where? Royal Victoria; Dundonald, Southern Trust
Hares & rabbits
A serious pest? Rabbits are primary carriers |of tick fever, tularemia, powassan virus and |rabies. Tularemia is an infectious disease which causes an ulcer at the site of infection, and lymph glands can become inflamed and swollen. Powassan virus can cause severe swelling in humans and has up to a 60% fatality rate.
Found where? Muckamore Abbey, Antrim Area
A serious pest? Woodlice are not generally regarded as a serious household pest as they do not spread disease and do not damage wood or structures. However, their presence can indicate dampness problems.
Found where? Royal Victoria, Mater
A serious pest? Some of the diseases they carry can be deadly, including leptospirosis, murine typhus, rickettsialpox, tularemia, |lymphocytic choriomeningitis and potentially the bubonic plague.
Found where? Royal Victoria; Forster Green; Holywell; Whiteabbey; Dalriada; Mid-Ulster; Antrim Area; Causeway; Braid Valley; Dundonald; Downshire; Lagan Valley; Southern Trust, Western Trust
A serious pest? Their high mobility, broad distribution and social behaviour make bats favourable hosts and carriers of disease. They can also become |infected with rabies.
Found where? Holywell, Western Trust
A serious pest? Centipedes have a rounded or flattened head, bearing a pair of antennae at the forward margin. They do not carry diseases that affect humans.
Found where? Belfast Trust
A serious pest? Small and wingless insects, the name silverfish comes from their silvery, light grey and blue colour, combined with the fish-like appearance of their movements. They are considered to be a general menace because of their consumption and destruction of property.
Found where? Royal Victoria; Belfast City; Holywell; Antrim Area; Dalriada; Moyle; |Whiteabbey; Lagan Valley; Downshire; Dundonald; Southern Trust, Western Trust