First impressions count. But the right impression lasts. It is a perennial challenge for healthcare organisations to present themselves in the best light, at all times. Only then can they develop a prestigious reputation, attract the best consultants, clinicians and staff, become the provider of choice for patients and residents, and levy the appropriate fees for their services to ensure prosperity.
Aspects of some private healthcare organisations’ public character are immediately apparent. Smart buildings. Investments in the latest medical technology. High carer to patient/resident ratios. Minimal waiting lists. But can that character withstand scrutiny? Make no mistake: the people whose opinions count the most are given to detailed scrutiny. The patients. The residents. The relatives. Referring GPs. CQC or HIQA inspectors. Those from other hospitals, clinics and care homes. As is so often the case, the devil is in the detail. But it’s in that very detail that organisations can find the greatest opportunity to prove that they’re different.
One area of detail often taken for granted is the service that keeps the premises clean and its occupants comfortable and happy. Despite being among the most essential services in any healthcare establishment, housekeeping is the most hidden from everyday view.
Healthcare organisations looking to make the best impression, even under intimate scrutiny, should ask themselves if they place as much value on the contribution of housekeeping staff as that of the clinical and admin staff. Another question is this: who in the senior management team knows exactly what the cleaning tasks comprise? What do the cleaners clean? How often? And to what standards? There are exceptions but rarely can anyone answer that with absolute certainty.
Take a close look at cleanliness
Familiarity and a focus on other things sometimes allow inadequate cleanliness to hide in plain sight. In contrast, looking behind the scenes, running a finger along door tops and skirting boards behind furniture can yield unflattering results. Other simple tests include inspecting beneath serving counters, checking fixtures and shared facilities in public areas, or thumping soft furnishings in care homes to look for a dust cloud. Here is where dirt and grime often lurk.
Where tests reveal unexpected levels of grime, it’s not unreasonable to assume that others may have already noticed it. And had their impression informed or altered by it. Patients, residents and visitors bring a fresh set of eyes less accustomed to the status quo. One group of visitors who will specifically look for cleanliness, and who will invoke a few finger tests in the quest for infection control, are the regulators.
What does good look like?
In terms of cleanliness, a good healthcare organisation is one that sets standards and sticks to them. It’s where every item in the premises gets cleaned to a prescribed frequency and standard. Where every act of cleaning is recorded. Should a patient, resident, visitor or inspector ever question the standards, the organisation can produce documented evidence.
The risks of getting it wrong
Dirt can create more than a critical CQC report or a stream of patient complaints; it can be dangerous. Bacteria in food areas can lead to incidents of food poisoning, while traces of nuts or seafood can trigger allergic reactions. Dust also sparks allergies. And dust build-up between the front and rear panels of a radiator is a fire risk.
Differentiate by adopting standards
From experience, a lack of enthusiasm for cleaning in hospitals, clinics and care homes is very rare. Hospitals and clinics, in particular, know all too well the threat of infection and the medical (and reputational) challenges that presents. No, from experience, issues invariably stem from a lack of control. Everyone assumes the cleaning is being done and is thorough, but there are no systems in place to monitor and verify the work.
By labelling every item with a serial number and setting the standard and frequency of cleaning, a healthcare organisation can start to record and control the process. Then it’s easy to run an eye over the schedule to see what’s been missed.
Motivated staff clean better
Setting standards is vital in turning housekeeping staff into a valued part of the care team. The difference can be huge. It’s human nature. A housekeeper in a UK hospital engaged in the CAP Programme summed up the attitude change by saying “I’m no longer invisible.” Clinical and hospital admin staff had previously shown no interest; now they were engaged with the cleaning process and in what the housekeeping team could achieve.
Flag-waving inside and beyond the organisation’s boundaries
Naturally, no healthcare organisation would ever admit to low standards of cleanliness. Even where housekeeping might be lacklustre, they still claim to be good. That’s where independent assessments linked to awards make a difference. External awards give truly good healthcare establishments a chance to rise above the empty boasts of competitors. Awards prove that cleaning meets specific standards. They do wonders for staff morale too. It tells the world that they are doing a great job.
Independent assessment lets hospitals, clinics and care homes benchmark their performance against others. The management team and housekeepers want to know if the existing level of cleanliness and hygiene is above or below the average, and by how much and in what areas. It sets the baseline and is the first step to improvement.
Going beyond the initial assessment and awards, an authentic programme will focus on continuous improvement. It will instruct the organisation how to achieve that improvement through a detailed schedule of performance and an action-plan for areas of underperformance. By following an action-plan, progressive organisations begin to create a cleaner and healthier environment. It also puts in place a structure for the long-term motivation of housekeeping teams – a self-fulfilling programme that both helps and encourages them to strive for higher standards. In turn, that can only reflect positively on the organisation’s reputation. And, as much as anything in a sector where patients enjoy choice, it’s reputation that brings in the business.
Contact us for more information or to arrange a free 30-minute assessment call.
The Continuous Advancement Programme is a progressive development scheme for the private healthcare sector. Individual programmes for housekeeping/cleaning and catering recognise their unique challenges and the potentially transformative effects of continuous improvement. The journey can start with a free 30-minute assessment call. Contact us for more information.