Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland hospitals record 3,000 incidences of rats, mice and insects


Pest controllers were called out hundreds of times to Northern Ireland hospitals last year due to infestations of rats, mice and bedbugs
Pest controllers were called out hundreds of times to Northern Ireland hospitals last year due to infestations of rats, mice and bedbugs
Edwin Poots
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

Pest controllers were called out hundreds of times to Northern Ireland hospitals last year due to infestations of rats, mice and bedbugs.

Rodents and insects were spotted in A&E departments, hospital wards and even kitchen and dining areas.

In total more than 3,000 pest sightings were reported at hospital facilities during the last three years.

The Belfast Trust, the biggest health trust, recorded the highest number of pest sightings - 1,381 across the three years.

The South Eastern Trust had a further 588 reports, while the Northern Trust had 524 sightings.

The Western Trust had 429 sightings, while a further 93 reports were recorded at the Southern Trust.

Pests which were reported to have been spotted ranged from rats and mice to wasps and silverfish.

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The details were obtained by this newspaper after Freedom of Information requests to the five health trusts.

Documents also revealed that the five trusts spent over £250,000 on pest controllers in the last three years.

Not all sightings necessarily resulted in a pest being found once experts had been tasked to investigate.

However, former Health Minister Edwin Poots said that while clean environments in hospitals are critical, he sympathised with the trusts.

He said the sector is in major need of capital investment to improve many of the older buildings in use.

Details obtained by this newspaper show:

  • A total of £256,508 was spent by the five health trusts on pest controllers in three years. Belfast Trust was the highest spender with £122,912.
  • Some 3,015 reports of pest sightings across all five health trusts since January 2017.
  • Around 660 reports of rats were recorded, with a further 770 reports of mice and 122 of cockroaches.

Alliance health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw said that the details were alarming.

"It's very concerning, especially when you have vulnerable people there who are very prone to infection already in an environment where the vermin can very easily carry and spread disease and germs," she said.

"It's obviously very concerning for patient safety but I would suspect, and it is very concerning for me, that with health budgets being so tight at the minute that possibly some of the resources to keep vermin at bay is probably not getting the proper funding it requires, so I think it's two-fold.

"There is a monetary issue but then there's also the impact of the health on the patients." Mr Poots believes that the number of incidents must be reduced but added that trust buildings cannot be "absolutely free" of pests.

"The figures do appear high, although part of the problem would be the age of the hospital estate and to some extent it demonstrates the necessity of capital investment in the health estate," he added.

"Some of the hospitals that we are operating out of are Victorian buildings and some of those buildings have stood the test of time better than post-war buildings."

He added: "There needs to be a capital investment but the one thing that hospitals really need to be is free from bugs and all those sorts of things."

Mr Poots said rodents in hospitals have the potential to spread the MRSA virus, but stressed that healthcare workers do a fantastic job in keeping areas clean.

"All of these pests have a habit of spreading germs," he said.

"People whose immune systems are already very low are compromised and that's not going to assist the recovery process.

"A big issue in hospitals is hospital-acquired infections. MRSA and those types of infections can have a devastating impact on people and it takes a long, long time to recover from that.

"Having a clean environment in hospitals is absolutely critical and staff do a brilliant job of doing that and ensuring that, but pests on site cause real problems."

While trusts spent over £250,000 on pest controllers, Mr Poots believes it is a necessity - but repeated the need for future investment.

He said it is one of the DUP's priorities in the current Stormont talks.

"The best thing to do is invest in the health estate and that is actually one of our asks in the current process," he added.

"We want to see capital investment across Northern Ireland but we want to see a significant capital investment in the health estate as well."

Responding to the figures, the health trusts said that pest issues were "inevitable" given the large size of buildings and the number of people accessing them.

They said the public should be reassured that robust procedures are in place to quickly and effectively deal with pests.

Trust by trust ... the sightings of pests recorded over the past three years

Belfast Trust

2017: 211 sightings

2018: 606 sightings

2019: 564 sightings

(to November 28)

Total: 1,381 sightings

Rats and mice were among the most common pests found at hospitals within the Belfast Trust area. However, the trust did not provide any information on where the sightings took place.

Nearly 1,400 sightings were recorded over a three-year period — more than any other trust area, although the Belfast Trust is the biggest health trust here.

Other pests reported at its hospitals included silverfish, wasps, cockroaches and birds.

A total of £122,912.48 was spent on pest control from January 2017 to November 28, 2019: £21,175.88 (2017), £56,332.60 (2018) and £45,404 (2019).

A spokesperson for the Belfast Trust said that while pest control issues can present on occasions, every possible precaution to prevent pests on sites is taken to ensure clinical areas are not impacted.

Western Trust

2017: 145 sightings

2018: 143 sightings

2019: 141 sightings

Total: 429 sightings

More than 400 pest sightings were reported across the Western Trust area during the three-year period.

In that period Altnagelvin Hospital dealt with 313 pests, including mice, rats, silverfish and bedbugs.

In 2017 some 114 reported incidents were recorded at the hospital, 102 in 2018 and 97 in 2019.

Other pest sightings were reported in Gransha Hospital, Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital, Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex and South West Acute Hospital.

Other sightings were made including those of wasps’ nests, woodlice, black ants and bed bugs.

The Western Trust spent a total of £37,216 on pest control providers in three years: £13,521 (2017/18), £14,733 (2018/19) and £8,962 (for the  seven month period covering April to October 2019).

A spokesperson for the Western Trust explained that when a pest sighting is reported the trust’s pest control contractors are called out to inspect the area and carry out relevant treatments.

“Proactive use of pest control systems is a sign of good hospital management and is well supported by the vigilance of staff to ensure that any pest control issues are dealt with quickly,” they said.

“It would be unrealistic to expect that large, public buildings with a significant throughput of people will be completely pest-free.

“However, the public should be reassured that the trust has robust procedures in place to quickly and effectively deal with pests.”

Northern  Trust

2017: 106 sightings

2018: 239 sightings

2019: 179 sightings

Total: 524 sightings

A total of 176 sightings of rats were recorded across all of the Northern Trust’s hospitals over three years — the highest rating of any pest. In 2018 alone 78 reports of rats were made.

Other pests reported on Northern Trust sites were centipedes/millipedes, bed bugs and black ants.

The Northern Trust reported the lowest spend on pest control services across Northern Ireland with £2,196 across three years. This is down to annual contracts with pest control services rather than individual call-out charges.

Antrim Area Hospital had 42 visits by pest control services in 2017, the highest of any hospital in the trust area that year, 84 in 2018, and 53 in 2019.

Holywell Hospital had the most visits in 2018 (92) and 2019 (75). A spokesperson for the Northern Trust said that with over 200 facilities, it will occasionally have to deal with “inevitable” pest control issues.

“We work closely with the environmental health team and have measures in place to prevent and remove pests in an efficient and timely manner,” they added. 

“We continue to ensure our high level of cleanliness and safety is maintained for all staff, patients and visitors.”

Southern Trust

2016/17: 22 sightings

2017/18: 18 sightings

2018/ 19: 53 sightings

Total: 93 sightings

The Southern Trust had 83 pest sightings — the lowest in three years across all trust areas.

In 2016 it was reported that a rat was in a changing room in Lurgan Hospital and mice were in a kitchen belonging to South Tyrone Hospital.

In 2017 mice were spotted in Daisy Hill Hospital’s A&E department and in the main kitchen of South Tyrone Hospital.

Meanwhile in 2019, cockroaches were reported in Craigavon Area Hospital’s main kitchen, while mice were discovered in a coffee area of the hospital.

Despite the low number of pest reports, the Southern Trust still spent £44,000 on pest controllers: £13,000 (2016/17), £15,000 (2017/18) and £16,000 (2018/19).

A spokesperson for the Southern Trust explained that the organisation manages 81 buildings, coming to a total of approximately 267,000 square metres and it is “inevitable” that it has to deal with sightings of pests.

“The trust has a well-established proactive pest management system in place,” they said.

“The vigilance of staff and early intervention by pest control specialists ensures that any suspected pest activity is dealt with as soon as possible.

“After each pest control treatment, a decontamination cleaning process is carried out in the affected area to ensure that the area can be safely used without any risk to patients or staff.”

South Eastern Trust

2017: 140 sightings (June 30 to December 31)

2018: 226 sightings

2019: 222 sightings (January 1 to November 22)

Total: 588 sightings

As with other trusts, the majority of pests spotted on the South Eastern Trust’s properties were rats and mice.

Experts also dealt with reports of fleas in the Ulster Hospital and Slievegrane, and beetles, also in the Ulster Hospital.

The figures revealed that the South Eastern Trust spent a total of £50,183.78 on pest control providers.

Between August 9 and December 31, 2017, the trust spent £7,601.93, a further £25,712.75 in 2018 and £16,869.10 from January 1 to September 26, 2019.

A spokesperson for the trust said: “We have a large number of buildings within the South Eastern Trust, and work very hard to keep them vermin free.

“We have pest control systems in place and encourage staff to report any suspected sightings.

“We call in pest control specialists at the earliest opportunity, and ensure the area is deep cleaned afterwards so that it is safe for patients and staff.”

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