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Latest Medirest News
Nov 13, 2022
| A wisecracking robot brought in to support healthcare staff at a hospital has been accused of missing the mark and told to clean up its act. The automated droid currently assists cleaning crews to keep the floors looking spick and span at Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford . The cleaning robot is being used at Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford. Photo: Dartford and Gravesham Hospital Trust Facebook It was hired to lighten the load during the pandemic and free up workers to carry out more "intricate" cleaning jobs elsewhere. But some have accused the bot of falling short of the mark at Darent Valley. To date the robot has been programmed to vacuum the hospital's carpeted hallways and operates on corridors at night or during quieter periods. It forms part of a series of tech innovations brought in by Medirest, the new healthcare support service of Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust. Last year the Trust signed a five-year contract for an undisclosed value with the private provider taking over catering, cleaning and security services – with 300 colleagues transferring to the group as part of the deal. Its hired helper, a vacuum robot made by a Singapore tech firm called LionsBot, can interact with anyone it comes into contact with. The blue-eyed robot has also been trialled at Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Pembury , where two robots are hard at work. Children have been known to revel in their ability to tell "hilarious gags", sing songs and imitate laughter through its in-built smart speaker. It's also been programmed to stop if people or objects get in their way and even offer a courtesy message. But some at Darent Valley believe the bot has become an unwelcome distraction which does little to improve the cleanliness of the hospital. One worker claimed the droid was "useless at vacuuming", and was for the most part wheeled out so "members of the public can take photos and selfies with it". Staff have also bemoaned its lack of speed and spatial awareness when navigating other cleaners and porters transferring sick patients. Medirest took over the cleaning contract at Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford last year. Photo: Stock "It speaks in this sort of Japanese-style Anime voice 'excuse me can you get out of the way please?'" one worker told KentOnline. "If it is in the middle of the corridor you can't get around it. "It's programmed on a pathway to go around the hospital but it is so c*** at cleaning they have to follow it around with a hoover." But Medirest, which is responsible for the day-to-day performance of the bot, said it had not been informed of any issues. "The robot is solely used for the cleaning of the main corridors," a spokesperson said. "To limit any disruption, the robot is used either during less busy periods or out of hours. "The use of this new technology is constantly kept under review and is designed to complement the work of our cleaning team who can focus on more skilled and intricate cleaning elsewhere." Some staff have raised concerns about their automated colleague. Photo: Dartford and Gravesham Hospital Trust Facebook It is also further alleged that since coming on board the contractor has cut supplies down "to the absolute basics". This has meant the cleaning staff face a daily battle to get hand towels to fill the dispensers, bags to fill the bins or soap to fill the dispensers, it is claimed. In May 2020 Medirest announced it would pay healthcare frontline employees, who support the NHS, the equivalent rates of basic pay. This meant an uplift in pay for some colleagues under the new Darent Valley contract. But one hospital staffer claimed pay and conditions had deteriorated for some employees under the new contract. Medirest responded to say there had been no reduction in cleaning supplies and it currently had two days supply back-up on site. 'The use of this new technology is constantly kept under review and is designed to complement the work of our cleaning team...' A spokesperson for the healthcare arm of Compass Group UK & Ireland, said: "Our teams at Darent Valley clean to the highest of standards. "Cleaning is regularly audited by the hospital and we have worked with the Trust to introduce the 2021 cleaning standards. "In the event any supplies run out, there is signage in place to enable people to report it and replacements will be provided promptly." It said in the the past two weeks it has also increased the number of daily checks of facilities, which are logged and monitored to ensure any shortages are addressed quickly. On pay and conditions, they added: "We highly value all our employees and are committed to paying all our people the equivalent Agenda for Change basic rate of pay. "Working in partnership with the Trust, all employees received a pay uplift when they transferred to Medirest last year. "Additionally, the NHS pay uplift that has recently been awarded will be paid on December 1 and be backdated from April." It says this has been communicated to colleagues and anyone with queries should speak to their line manager or HR. In recognition of the cost of living, Medirest says it recently introduced free meals for all employees at Darent Valley who are able to access packed lunches and can also receive 50% off in the staff restaurant and at the Costa. A spokesman for Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust said: "Together with our partner, Medirest, the Trust endeavours to provide the highest standard of care to our patients, staff and visitors. "The Trust and Medirest collaborate to manifest the Trust’s values for the benefit of our people, these are; caring with compassion, striving to excel, offering respect and dignity, striving for professional standards and working together." The Trust has recently uplifted its cleaning service following a change in contract to the National Standards of Healthcare Cleanliness 2021 – a set of mandatory compliance standards set out by the NHS for all in primary care settings. It says all cleaning tasks include three stages of auditing, which is undertaken as a "concerted effort" between the clinical staff and Medirest. "Medirest’s healthcare frontline employees are an integral part of the hospital community and are valued as such, "they added. "The Trust encourages staff to speak with their line manager if they have any worries or concerns regarding their NHS pay lift."
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