Hospitals hit by a vermin invasion: Rats, mice and cockroaches 'putting patients at risk'
06:50 GMT, 10 April 2012
NHS hospitals have to call in pest controllers hundreds of times a year to deal with infestations of vermin, putting patients at risk of disease and infection.
A survey of hospitals in England found many were continually plagued by pests such as rats, mice, ants, silverfish, cockroaches and fleas.
There have been cases of rats in a palliative care ward, mice in a children’s nursery, fleas and cockroaches in maternity units, and wards infested with bedbugs.
Accused: Jason Ketley, 42, was bitten on his back and neck at St Ebbas Hospital in Epsom, Surrey. Staff say a field mouse was responsible for his injuries
The incidents have taken place in all areas of hospitals, from intensive care wards and A&E departments to staff rooms and canteens. Some hospitals have had more unusual complaints, reporting problems with squirrels, foxes and birds.
The details, obtained by Freedom of Information requests, will raise concerns that cleanliness is still a major issue at a number of NHS trusts. Vermin can carry infections that can put patients’ recovery at risk.
While cases of MRSA and C.difficile have fallen after a nationwide campaign, there are concerns that some other infections are on the increase.
The survey comes only weeks after a vulnerable patient claimed he was attacked by a rat as he lay sedated in a hospital bed.
Jason Ketley, 42, was bitten on his back and neck at St Ebba’s Hospital in Epsom, Surrey. Staff say a field mouse was responsible for his injuries.
Last night Professor Mark Enright, an infection control expert at AmpliPhi Biosciences, said: ‘This is scandalous and should not be happening in modern hospitals. It points to a lack of general hygiene.
‘Rats can carry infections such as Weil’s disease, which can be passed on to healthcare workers and patients.
Vermin: A picture taken at the Old Building at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) in 2004
‘If someone is in an intensive care or paediatric ward, they are more susceptible to infection.’
Roger Goss, co-director of the campaign group Patient Concern, said: ‘It is terrifying and it shows that the rhetoric about patient safety being the number one priority is often little more than hollow words.
‘You’d have thought this kind of problem would not be allowed to arise because cleaning systems are so continuous and efficient.
‘But instead there is a question of priorities. If you’ve got targets to treat everyone in A&E within four hours, then this kind of thing is unglamorous by comparison and doesn’t happen.
‘There is no target to avoid rats in palliative care units, so it does not happen. The message to patients should simply be: steer clear of hospitals.’
The survey covers hundreds of pest control call-outs between August and January, with details provided by more than 40 trusts. All hospitals have some type of contract with a pest-control firm, either for routine checks or for emergencies.