NHS hospitals dealing with thousands of pest problems and sewage leaks as outstanding maintenance bills top £17m

Alex Matthews-King
Rodent infestations were reported by 70 per cent of trusts, while a quarter had bed bugs: Getty Images/iStockphoto

NHS trusts are having to pay millions in maintenance bills to tackle pest infestations and leaky sewage pipes and roofs, after funding for repairs was instead raided by ministers to keep the health service running.

An investigation by the Labour Party found virtually all trusts had to use exterminators, with thousands of call outs for infestations of rodents, fleas and other insects each year.

Meanwhile, 60 per cent of trusts have had to contend with a blocked or leaking sewage pipe on patient wards, and nearly three out of four had a problem with roof leaks.

Bills for outstanding fire safety improvements, including the removal of Grenfell-style cladding on some hospitals, are at least £13m based on the response from 96 of 101 NHS trust to a Freedom of Information Act.

Hospital chiefs have said that raids on NHS capital funding, to the tune of £3.8bn in the last four years, have left a growing maintenance backlog which poses significant risks to the public and “stores up problems for the future”.

They added they had reported pest incidents between 2015 and 2017.

Seventy per cent said they had experienced a rodent infestation, while a quarter had dealt with fleas and 29 per cent had cockroaches – though the biggest problem was ants affecting 73 per cent of trusts.

This amounted to more than 12,200 cases in all, with Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation trust having the most issues, 777 incidents, closely followed by South London and Maudsley.

Many NHS buildings are in need of replacement or major refurbishments. Around half of trusts (42) that responded to the Labour inquiry gave details of their outstanding repair bills, which topped £17.4m in all.

This includes £4.4m for roof repairs, to address some of the 3,535 leaks reported by trusts.

The trusts said they have a £13m bill for outstanding fire maintenance improvements to extinguishers, escapes and insulating cladding now known to be a fire hazard.

Up to 38 trusts are thought to be a concern, while nine are known to be at high risk because they have the same cladding as that used on Grenfell Tower where 79 people died.

Only three trusts, King’s College Hospitals, Sheffield Children’s Hospital and North Middlesex University Hospitals, have been identified so far.

“In recent years, funding to maintain and develop NHS buildings and equipment has been diverted increasingly into dealing with day to day pressures,” said deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, which represents trusts, Saffron Cordery.

“Not only are we seeing a growing maintenance backlog, but the proportion deemed ‘high’ and ‘significant’ risk has also been rising year by year.

“This increases the risk of disruption and delays, and may pose a risk to patient safety.”

In 2016/17 these raids topped £1.2bn, more than 20 per cent of the entire capital budget that year.

While there was recognition of a need to improve estates and equipment in government, the funding pledged so far “isn’t enough” and recent attacks on NHS IT have exposed another major cost.

“Eight years of chronic underfunding of the NHS by this Conservative Government is having a huge impact on staff and patient safety,” said Labour shadow health minister Justin Madders.

“With the Government diverting resources from maintenance budgets to keep everyday services running, vital repairs are not being carried out, creating unsafe work environments which are already disrupting patient care.”

“These latest figures reveal how serious the funding crisis has become, with millions of pounds worth of work needed across the NHS.”

The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment