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The Scottish government has ordered health boards across the country to stop contracting out of cleaning, catering and other services.

The Scottish health minister made the announcement as part of a speech that puts in-house hospital cleaning at the heart of the war on superbugs.

Speaking at her party’s national conference, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said “from now on there will be no further privatization of hospital cleaning and catering services anywhere in Scotland.”

The dramatic move means that by 2011, only a handful of hospitals – those with long-term P3 contracts – will have privatized cleaners. As contracts expire, the services will be nationalized.

As early as 2002 Sturgeon, then in opposition, was criticizing privatization of health support services and connecting the policy with a rise in superbugs, saying “[h]ygiene standards have suffered because of Labour’s obsession with putting profits before people and privatising public services.”

The president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) is calling for the provincial government to follow Scotland’s lead. “These are the kind of steps we need to take here in Ontario if we want to safeguard health and defeat hospital infections,” said OCHU president Michael Hurley. “It simply isn’t prudent to contract out cleaning jobs as our public health care system fights hospital-acquired infections such as C. difficile.”

OCHU has been campaigning across the province, demanding mandatory public reporting of superbug outbreaks and a ban on contracted-out cleaning in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

During the recent federal election, CUPE called for national action to stop the spread of superbugs, including publicly-delivered cleaning services.

UNISON is also putting pressure on the British government. The union, CUPE’s counterpart in the U.K., is running a campaign for cleaner hospitals that aims to stop and reverse privatization of cleaning services.

Earlier this year, the Welsh Labour government announced it had delivered on its election promise to end contracting out of hospital cleaning, bringing cleaning staff back in-house to work for the National Health Service (NHS). According to UNISON, the vast majority of services in Northern Ireland have stayed in-house.

The letter to Scottish health boards drives home the importance of cleaning, catering and other support services, saying they play “a key role in the delivery of clinical services in NHS Scotland.”

Hospital-acquired infections are a significant and growing problem in Canada and around the world. Each year, one in nine Canadian hospital patients will acquire an infectious disease. It is estimated that between 8,000 and 12,000 Canadians will die. Many hospital infections have grown so resistant they can no longer be cured with common antibiotics.

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