A study from the United Kingdom links privatized hospital cleaning to higher rates of a dangerous drug-resistant superbug.

The wide-ranging research tracked how often patients were infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in UK facilities, and whether the facility had public or privatized cleaning services.

Researchers looked at 126 hospital trusts (the public bodies that run hospitals in the UK). The result: contracted-out cleaning meant a “significantly greater incidence of MRSA” than facilities with in-house cleaning.

The researchers say it would be “surprising” if rates at facilities with outsourced cleaning weren’t also higher for other infections.

The study is fresh evidence for CUPE members working to keep cleaning services public. Our members in New Brunswick are warning about the consequences of privatizing hospital support services. In Ontario, CUPE hospital workers are campaigning for more staff and an end to privatization, to stop preventable deaths from hospital-acquired infections.

The true cost of contracting out must factor in the human and financial costs of MRSA infection for patients and the health care system – an area the authors say needs more research.

The authors conclude that “as far as cleaning services are concerned, it matters who does it.”

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all either rejected or reversed privatized cleaning.