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Ontario should follow the example of Scotland and Wales, which are hiring hundreds more cleaners and ending contracting out of cleaning services in their battles against health care associated infections (HAIs), said Steve Davies, a UK expert researcher on the connection between cleaning and controlling infections such as C. difficile, MRSA and VRE in health care facilities.

The Scottish ministry of health has just announced it is hiring 600 new in-house cleaning staff to battle HAIs and Wales is ending all contracting out,” said Davies, senior research fellow at Cardiff University in Wales.  “In-house cleaners prove to be more effective, and in the long run, at least as cost-effective as contracted out cleaning services.  Ontario should take notice.”

Davies noted that many Canadian governments are going down the wrong track.  He was speaking at a Hamilton media conference, part of a Canadian tour against HAIs organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

More overcrowding, more understaffing and contracting out of cleaning services puts patients and health care workers at unnecessary risk,” said Davies, who has worked with government bodies, parliamentary authorities, employers and unions, and who contributed to the Romanow Commission in 2001.

The Canadian National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health gives five reasons for the spread of infectious pathogens:  crowding, contact, cuts or abrasions, contaminated surfaces, and lack of cleanliness.  High hospital bed occupancy is a major factor in the first two, and insufficient front line staff largely determines the last two.  A recent UK study found that hospitals with occupancy levels over 90 per cent can expect a 10.3 per cent higher MRSA rate.  In 2005, Canada’s bed occupancy rate was 95 per cent.

Canada has one of the highest bed occupancy rates in the OECD, but we’re still adding fuel to the HAI fire by cutting back on cleaning staff and contracting out services to the lowest bidder,” said Louis Rodrigues, First Vice-President, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/Canadian Union of Public Employees (OCHU/CUPE).  “Let’s learn from the UK, reduce occupancy rates and bolster in-house cleaning services.”

Health care associated infections are the fourth-leading cause of death in Canada, with an annual infection rate of 220,000, resulting in 8,500-12,000 deaths each year.