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‘Only change linen if essential’: Hospital staff told to cut back on fresh sheets amid Brexit shortages

Exclusive: Textile Services Association warns that ‘shortages of linen and laundry will have a knock-on effect on the provision of beds in trusts’

Samuel Lovett
Senior News Correspondent
,Rebecca Thomas
Wednesday 29 June 2022 14:44 BST
NHS staff have been told to ‘only change linen if essential’
NHS staff have been told to ‘only change linen if essential’ (AFP via Getty Images)

The NHS is facing a shortage of laundry supplies that could have a “knock-on effect” on bed numbers, an industry leader has warned, with staff at one trust recently told to “only change linen if essential”.

The Textile Services Association (TSA), which represents multiple laundry businesses that provide supplies to the NHS, said Brexit and the pandemic had caused large labour shortages which were making it difficult to meet demand across the healthcare and hospitality sectors.

David Stevens, chief executive of TSA, told The Independent that “shortages of linen and laundry will have a knock-on effect on the provision of beds in trusts”, adding that the “bounce back post-Covid created a high demand for product and the supply chain was not able to deliver”.

In an internal email circulated to staff last month at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, one senior official said both the trust and the NHS were “currently experiencing severe issues with the supply chain for linen deliveries,” adding that the situation is “currently very serious”.

The email reads: “Please follow good Infection Prevention and Control practices, but only change linen if essential. For example, always change bed linen between patients, but do not change inpatients’ bed linen daily if at all possible.”

The Independent understands that laundry staff at Kingston Hospital, Croydon Hospital, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals, and St George’s Hospital were recently warned by the South West London Procurement Partnership about linen delays and shortages in the supply chain.

Procurement teams have been urged not to over-order supplies as a contingency measure amid fears this could create further shortages.

Hospitals in Yorkshire and Humberside are also said to be aware of disruptions to the availability of bed linen.

“There is the potential for laundry supply issues within the NHS until we see a return to a more normal trading condition,” said Mr Stevens.

“As an industry, we’re struggling. Post-Covid and post-Brexit we’ve lost access to a large labour market, for both the healthcare and hospitality laundry industries.

“We’ve got additional pressures in terms of getting the product in the first place.”

He explained the high demand for supplies that followed the easing of Covid restrictions was “exasperated by further lockdowns in China and Suez Canal blockage. There was also some crop failures on cotton.”

In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, there were 4,000 vacancies out of a total 24,000 laundry jobs in the UK, Mr Stevens said. The situation has improved, but re-training staff “takes time”, he added.

Manufacturing costs have also been driven up as a result of the recent rise in energy prices, further exacerbating the current pressures facing linen and laundry providers, Mr Stevens said.

“Energy prices have gone up dramatically and there was no energy cap for the commercial sector. We have seen examples of up to 300 per cent increase and with energy representing over 10 per cent of the overall laundry costs, this is obviously having a significant impact.”

Costs related to drivers and engineers also rose by 10 to 15 per cent as a result of Brexit, he added.

A spokesperson for the NHS London Procurement Partnership said: “We’ve noticed increased price demands from the linen service supply market to NHS Trusts that are well above current inflation levels, and a willingness from suppliers to walk away from contracts if these demands are not met due to the financial pressures on the supplier.”

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