‘The toilets in that hospital are often disgraceful and the people of Waterford and the South East are completely unaware.’
CLEANERS at University Hospital Waterford have expressed “grave concerns” about the cleanliness of the hospital amid accusations of cost cutting, zero hour contracts, and dangerous lack of health and safety procedures, especially during a pandemic.
Seven employees of Momentum Support, the company that won the cleaning contract for UHW in 2019, met with the Waterford News & Star recently to express a number of issues that they say the people of Waterford “deserve to know”. They include staff having to bring cleaning products from home due to a lack of them on site, certain cleaners being told they can’t go near certain areas of the hospital, while others are moving freely between UHW, Waterford Residential Care Centre (formerly St. Patrick’s Hospital) and the Covid-19 testing centre in Kilcohan. The staff are united in their claim that the hospital is not being cleaned to the level that the public would expect.
The Waterford News & Star met with seven employees of Momentum Support. The employees, concerned for their livelihoods, have requested to remain anonymous for this piece and will be referred to as “Employee One”, “Employee Two” etc. They include staff originally from ISS Facility Services – the company which previously held the cleaning contract at UHW, and staff which commenced work when Momentum were in situ.
When Momentum were awarded the contract for cleaning services at UHW, they first met with ISS Facility Services staff in groups of eight.
“We thought this was strange because we were meeting in the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland building, which can hold a lot more,” said one of the Employees. “We were given a ‘Welcome Pack’ to take away, and this became our first red flag.”
All of the staff confirmed that the welcome pack included an application form and a company handbook. At the back of the book was a form to fill in bank details for payment, underneath which was a box to tick to confirm that you agreed to all the conditions in the handbook.
“Two of the conditions that stood out were that Momentum Support wanted access to our social media accounts and the right to search our cars,” Employee Two said. “Following talks with our union, none of these forms were submitted and new ones were provided.”
One of the most contentious areas of the cleaning contract in UHW is that employees hired by Momentum after they took over the contract are on a lesser wage than the cleaners who had previously worked with ISS.
“Former ISS staff are on a higher rate than new Momentum Services staff and also receive an extra €1.49 per hour site allowance,” Employee Three said. “Also, former ISS staff receive double time for Sundays, while the new staff get time and a quarter. If old and new staff working together on a Sunday, doing exactly the same work, there is a wage difference of over €10 per hour.”
Trouble started very quickly into Momentum’s new tenure at the hospital when they decided that they didn’t want to pay the €1.49 site allowance, telling workers that the hospital should be the ones paying it.
“They told us that they hadn’t budgeted for this allowance,” Employee One said. “One would think that they would have completed the necessary due diligence when they were submitting the tender.”
Staff threatened industrial action and the site allowance remained in place.
Momentum then told the staff that former ISS workers were not allowed in the new Dunmore Wing as a separate contract had been negotiated for that ward and only new employees would be allowed work there.
Next, they prevented former ISS workers from accessing Surgical 7 Ward due to an outbreak of CPE.
“Former ISS staff not being allowed on that ward meant that a new staff member, on lower rates of pay, would have to work on the ward for 12 hours, doing the cleaning, detail cleaning, changing the domestic waste and clinical waste and essentially doing the work of four people,” Employee Five said, pointing out that rubbish bins were left on corridors from an outbreak ward. “This was a serious infection control issue and we voiced our concerns.”
According to the employees, a number of staff made complaints and were subsequently told that there was no budget for weekend cleaning on the isolation wards.
“This meant that there was no rubbish collection at the weekends because our staff were not allowed to enter,” Employee Five said. “This carried on for months. Apparently the CPE virus doesn’t work at weekends.”
When the CPE outbreak spread to another ward, the same procedure followed until a new Momentum cleaner scored under 40% in an audit, thus triggering the return of the former ISS staff.
The staff expressed an issue with audits because they haven’t received a Standard Operating Procedure to work on. Thus, they don’t actually know what they should be doing to fulfil the requirements of an audit.
“Audits are carried out on wards on a daily basis by supervisors and management, yet the staff don’t actually know what they are supposed to be cleaning,” Employee Six said. “We asked for an SOP and was told by a Site Manager that it was “above his pay grade”. So how can they conduct an audit if they don’t actually know what they’re checking? How do they come up with the all important percentage mark?”
Staff say that that they are often “so short of cleaning equipment” that they have to bring their own from home.
“Staff are constantly waiting for mops at the beginning of their shifts and there’s not nearly enough cleaning solution available to them,” Employee One said. “It’s not uncommon to go weeks without toilet cleaner, meaning diligent staff are forced to bring in their own. The toilets in that hospital are often disgraceful and the people of Waterford and the South East are completely unaware. One girl was told recently to use elbow grease and water. She was told ‘pour the water on it and leave it soak, come back after a while and the sh** might be soft enough to clean off’. This is what they tell staff to do instead of ordering toilet cleaner.”
Cleaners express health
and safety concerns
By Darren Skelton
THE employees said that the current unrest in Momentum is leading to a serious health and safety issue, not only at University Hospital Hospital but also at the new Waterford Residential Care Centre (formerly St. Patrick’s Hospital).
“The new staff are being sent between the Dunmore Wing and St. Patrick’s Hospital, is this safe practice during a pandemic?” Employee One said. “When a patient arrives into University Hospital Waterford from another hospital they are treated as a potential Covid patient for two weeks. It doesn’t make sense to have staff going between two hospitals with such vulnerable patients.”
The staff claim that last week, dirty mops that were being used in the Covid-19 test centre in Kilcohan were being brought to UHW to be cleaned.
“Do you think members of the public should know that this is going on?” Employee three said. “That dirty mops from a Covid-19 test area are being brought back to the hospital?”
According to the staff, needle stick injuries are very common in the hospital.
“Needles are left lying on tray tables, bin bags… even on the floor where they regularly get tangled up in mops,” Employee Five said. “Momentum have not provided any anti-syringe gloves for staff changing bins or washing mops.”
The employee claimed cleaning staff have not received sharps awareness training at the hospital.
The staff are united in their claim that the hospital is not being cleaned to the level that the public would expect.
Staff are constantly leaving and not being replaced,” Employee Two said. “When someone is off sick, there’s rarely someone available to cover so people are being taken off other jobs and other areas where their attention was needed. All this means that areas of the hospital remain uncleaned, while Momentum are still being paid their full contract by the HSE.”
The employees told the Waterford News & Star that at the start of the pandemic, hospital management told them that they are “recognised as healthcare workers”.
“That was great to hear, but why then are we not entitled to any sick pay, or access to showers or changing facilities?” Employee One said. “In Momentum’s Health and Safety Book it states that they provide wash rooms and changing facilities. I can tell you categorically that they do not. People have to wear the same uniform home as they do in the hospital all day. Many of them are wearing the same uniform when they pop into the supermarket on the way home – during a pandemic. It’s hard to believe.”
The staff have also been told to make sure all their holidays are used up by the end of the year, despite the HSE announcing to healthcare workers that they could carry their holidays over into 2021 because of the pandemic.
“It’s quite obvious that we’re not being treated as healthcare workers”.
The Waterford News & Star was shown a disciplinary letter, sent to a member of staff in August, which was an official written warning for “inappropriate OPD access”. The letter was accompanied by CCTV images of the staff member in question in the ward.
“Firstly, why are Momentum allowed to access hospital CCTV images in order to discipline a staff member?” Employee One said. “Secondly, this staff member was in the ward for valid reasons.”
The staff unanimously stated that they were at their “wit’s end” working with Momentum and said that the people of Waterford and the South East “deserved to know how their tax money was being used”.
The Waterford News & Star put all of the claims made by staff members to both Momentum Support and University Hospital Waterford.
A spokesperson for Momentum Support said that the company “is in full compliance with all of its statutory and contractual obligations. Furthermore, it has full engagement with its staff through its Union Committee and it also has a formalised grievance procedure should that necessity arise. It does not comment publicly on internal HR, operational or customer contractual matters.”
Responding to claims about dirty mops from a Covid test centre being moved to UHW, the spokesperson said “The company is fully compliant with all of its statutory and contractual obligations and has strict protocols in place. The company is not aware of any such activity.”
The Waterford News & Star also contacted UHW management to inquire as to what levels of sharps training are provided at the hospital to all staff (including facilities and admin staff) as well as if anti-sharp gloves are provided to all staff.
A spokesperson replied: “University Hospital Waterford can confirm that Sharps training is provided for all staff in UHW on a two year basis in line with legislative requirements. Appropriate PPE is supplied and available for all staff based on a risk assessment of the work activities/tasks being undertaken.”
UHW were also asked if they provide wash rooms for cleaning staff; if they were aware that cleaners were going between three different health centres during a pandemic and also if the hospital make their CCTV imaged available to Momentum on request.
A spokesperson replied: “University Hospital Waterford can confirm that Momentum Support provides cleaning and waste services in line with the Service Level Agreement. In relation to CCTV, the General Manager in UHW has access to this and it is only available to third parties in exceptional circumstances of investigations or incidents.”
Unite were contacted by the Waterford News & Star but we had not received response before going to print.