Editor's Viewpoint: Clean facilities must be priority for trusts
Our exclusive report that more than 3,000 pest sightings were reported in hospitals throughout Northern Ireland in the past three years will reinforce the widely held public perception that cleanliness standards in health facilities have deteriorated in recent times.
But public perceptions are often based on a rose-tinted remembrance of the past when matrons ruled the wards and the smell of disinfectant permeated every corner of the local hospitals.
The truth is that while the spread of infection remains a concern in hospitals, it has to be remembered that wards are full of seriously ill people, many with compromised immune systems and others with highly contagious diseases.
We should compliment the hospitals for spending some £250,000 in tackling pest control at a time when every pound counts in frontline treatment of patients.
The hospitals called in pest control experts when vermin such as rats, mice and bed bugs were reported and that was an entirely appropriate response.
One of the major factors in the number of pests spotted is the ageing healthcare estate which provides a perfect breeding ground for them. The extensive building work being undertaken is another factor since ground disturbance makes vermin seek refuge indoors.
While it is the treatment and recuperation areas of hospitals that the public sees there are also a myriad of other buildings on the hospital sites. Sheds, storage areas, garages and areas where bins are kept. All those are attractive to vermin and it is inevitable that there will be a proliferation of pests there.
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In interpreting the number of times that pest control experts have been called out it should be borne in mind that the high total for the Belfast Trust is a reflection of the size of its healthcare estate rather than an indication that it is more infested than facilities in other health trust areas.
However it is imperative that those in charge of healthcare facilities remain vigilant for pest infestation. Obviously, whatever the mitigation, it is not ideal that vermin are seen in the corridors of hospitals, accident and emergency departments and dining areas.
There is tremendous public sympathy for the financial plight of the health service, but patients and visitors want these areas to be as sterile as possible and that must remain the aim of healthcare managers to ensure patient safety.