As the NHS and the Army’s joint project to convert London’s ExCel into a 4,000-bed field ‘Nightingale Hospital’ takes shape, with the prospect of two giant “wards” of 2,000 beds each, the HSJ reports “major clinical and cultural tensions” in addition to the huge logistical challenge.

In addition to locating and setting up all of the equipment and supplies required to kick off with 500 beds and increase towards the 4,000 target, the NHS has to find ways to staff the unique hospital – and decide what its actual role is supposed to be.

For some it will come as a shock that the cleaning, portering and waste management services are to be contracted out to multinational corporation ISS, the company whose failure to pay domestic staff at Lewisham Hospital triggered an angry walk-out early in March.

A company press release on March 27 was headed “ISS is proud to support the new Nightingale hospital:” but it also made clear that many of the staff drafted in to take on the new contract will be taken from vital work on other NHS contracts:

“At this stage the workforce is being drawn from around the country, starting with contracts the company holds with the NHS. Additional staff will be recruited from other areas that are currently on furlough.”

So the decision to bring in a private company to carry out this work was not linked to their ready supply of available staff: and we know that the NHS has been told it can spend as much as is necessary to get through the crisis, so budget constraints are not an issue.

It appears that UCHL director Ben Morrin, who has been given the role as workforce lead has decided not to include the cleaning staff in the NHS team that is to take on the onerous and potentially hazardous work of keeping the hospital clean and safe for patients and staff, despite all the decades of evidence that in-house services deliver better quality services.

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