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2007 Health Care Service Group Conference
21 December 2006

This Conference notes with concern the Department of Health’s (DoH) rollout of its Decontamination Strategy and sees this as a further step in the privatisation and marketisation of services in the NHS.

In a national survey of decontamination services carried out by the DoH in 2001 it found that there were 182 acute NHS Trusts covering 249 hospitals with Central Sterile Services Departments (CSSD’s) in England. The survey revealed that following reviews by NHS Trusts and inspections by NHS Estates decontamination teams across the country decontamination services in 109 hospitals did not initially meet acceptable standards. However, by implementing urgent action plans and improving the management of decontamination services, NHS Estates then rated decontamination in all 249 hospitals with central sterile services as either acceptable or better. A significant number also met the European Medical Devices Directive (MDD) standard.

Despite this the DoH is recommending that future decontamination and sterile services provision be provided by privately run ‘Supercentres’ under the guise of cost savings and that they will best combat the contamination of instruments/tools from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD). In reality this is a smoke screen for privatisation.

In pushing the strategy the Government has ignored the lessons from the Scottish experience both in terms of premature merging of services and the significant capacity issues in meeting service demands. The decontamination of non-portable instruments/tools e.g. endoscopes and the vulnerability of delicate surgical instruments remains unresolved and will lead to bad practices being introduced in attempts to find local solutions to the problems.

Conference is also of the view that the DoH strategy is flawed in its reasoning and justification for developing ‘Supercentres’ as the basis for the eradication of vCJD. No system can currently fully eradicate vCJD. The best way of achieving this is through the redesign of instruments and tools along with the subsequent retraining of staff in their use. This would require a significant investment and one which would not readily attract the private sector, as profit margins would be low or non-existent.

The current strategy and denial of the real issues poses significant risks to both patients and staff.

Conference notes that UNISON adopts a member-centred approach to change in the NHS, recognising that whilst opposing some changes, we still have members in those areas affected and need to negotiate and campaign in their best interests. Therefore a ‘twin track’ approach is required to ensure that those staff that have already been transferred or are in the process of being transferred are not isolated and receive appropriate support and representation both nationally and locally.

Conference calls upon the Service Group Executive to:

1.maintain opposition to the strategy and campaign for all services to remain in-house

2.provide guidance and other materials to branches on organising and campaigning against the rollout of the strategy

3.encourage Regions to set up regional forums for branches to discuss local issues and effective ways of campaigning against the strategy

4.convene a one day seminar for those branches affected by the strategy to come together and share information/best practice

5.explore the use of the Bargaining Information Support system to gather and collate information on the rollout and to share this information amongst Regions and Branches support Branches taking legal industrial action against the rollout