A report by MPs into the role of cleaning and hygiene during the Covid-19 pandemic calls for the introduction of minimum standards for hand and other hygiene infrastructure and cleaning of venues to help make sure the nation is better prepared for a future public health emergency.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Cleaning and Hygiene Industry published a report today (29 November) with 11 recommendations for the government, regulators and the industry itself, following a wide-ranging and detailed inquiry entitled ‘Embedding Effective Hygiene for a Resilient UK’.
In summary, the recommendations are:
- A joint government-industry preparedness team should be established to draw up a plan for cleaning and hygiene requirements in times of emergency.
- Based upon the plan, minimum levels of the cleaning materials and equipment most commonly called upon in emergencies should be defined and their availability ensured.
- Government and the cleaning product supply industry should investigate how to increase production capacity in any pandemic.
- It should be agreed that in any future pandemic, key frontline worker status must be bestowed upon commercial cleaning and hygiene operatives working in defined key venues and also personnel in the cleaning products production and supply sectors.
- Urgent consideration must be given to making cleaning staff eligible for the Skilled Worker Visa scheme.
- A defined set of high-level minimum standards for hand and other hygiene infrastructure and of the depth and frequency of cleaning of diverse venues should be agreed upon between the government/regulators and the cleaning and building management industry
- A standard qualification for cleaning should be developed within the Apprenticeship Levy to improve the quantity, quality and career prospects of people entering the cleaning industry.
- Training budgets for cleaning staff within both public and private enterprises should be adequate.
- Government communications about hygienic practices and behaviour in times of pandemic or other emergencies to be clear, consistent, sustained, timely, relevant and specific.
- A government-led communications campaign should be deployed to widen and deepen public understanding of hygiene and establish a norm of adopting hygienic behaviour as part of everyday life.
- The government should support the cleaning and hygiene industry to promote a realignment in perceptions of the industry.
The APPG, which comprises 53 MPs and two members of the House of Lords, has been supported during the inquiry by the industry body for the entire sector and APPG secretariat, the British Cleaning Council (BCC) and the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH).
The inquiry examined what had been both successful and unsuccessful in the national approach to cleaning and hygiene during the pandemic to ensure that lessons would be learned. These will be taken forward to increase disease resilience to current common infections and help to inform the UK’s response to any similar public health emergency.
The report is being shared with the UK Covid-19 Inquiry and is expected to be followed by a round table event within the industry which will consider how to take forward the findings.
APPG chairman Nigel Mills said: “We would all like to believe that Covid has gone away and there’s no risk left, but that’s not the case.
“Our report highlights some sensible measures that could improve hygiene levels and slow down the spread of infectious diseases while letting us get on with our normal lives.”
BCC chairman Jim Melvin added: “This is a hugely important report for the government and the industry in assisting the nation and, if implemented, will help make sure the UK is prepared and ready for another pandemic or new variant, which we all fear and recognise may only be a matter of time.
“This report will help us learn and remember the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic so we don’t make the same mistakes again in the next public health emergency.
“The key message is the need to ensure that cleaning and hygiene is given top priority in the future, as was so ably demonstrated by the bravery and commitment of our cleaning and hygiene professional operatives during the pandemic.
“The public will be healthier, happier and safer if cleaning and hygiene is recognised as a key, frontline service with a vital role in terms of public health.
“But it must also be made clear that if this report is not acted on, the risk will remain and the government simply cannot allow that price to be paid.”
Dr Jyotsna Vohra, director of policy and public affairs at the RSPH, said: “This report provides a clear indication of the lessons we must learn and actions we should take to better support our ability to improve infection control and have better pandemic preparedness.
“The diversity of voices that the inquiry included further reinforces the validity of these recommendations and as we go into another winter, with rising flu and RSV cases, I hope that these are implemented to support the whole health system, including the public health workforce, who are under such strain.”