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Laundry Services Used By NHS Are Struggling To Meet Demand Because Of Staff Shortages

Laundry Services Used By NHS Are Struggling To Meet Demand Because Of Staff Shortages
4 min read

A “perfect storm” of staff shortages, surging energy costs and supply chain problems is threatening to hamper commercial laundry services, says the body which represents them.

The Textile Services Association is warning that as they return to operating at a pre-pandemic capacity, they will not be able to fulfil their orders, with “painful” knock-on effects in a wide range of industries.

Its members process 90% of the laundry from the NHS, and have expressed fears hospital services could be affected if they are unable to meet demand as a result of high gas prices, and severe labour shortages. 

The industry is struggling to fill the thousands of vacancies in laundries, and is still only operating at 70% capacity, with many businesses not having returned to normal as pandemic restrictions begin to ease. 

“I think what people don't understand with textile care laundries is we only become important when we're not there,” the association’s CEO David Stevens told PoliticsHome.

Stevens worried that if laundries were not able to process large amounts of linen from hospitals, including bedding and scrubs, it could have a severe impact on NHS services. 

“There would be no vaccine without laundry, food factories can't process because we do all the hygiene clothes, all the pharmaceutical uniforms," he explained. 

“Every operation is full of laundered items, so you can’t do surgical clothing, you can't do scrubs, you can't do the bedding, you can't do the patients' gowns, and there's not really a hotel in the country that would really operate without laundry.

They are also struggling to find enough HGV drivers to move their linen. "Drivers are probably the biggest issue, and 20% of a laundry service is logistics," Stevens contined. 

"Even if we can process the work, if we can't deliver it and pick it up, that's a big part of a laundry service.

“I wouldn't want to scaremonger around healthcare but if we can't get drivers and we can't run the laundry, we would need to reduce the service to hospitals."

Sara Gorton, head of health at the union UNISON believed shortages in clean laundry would have a "severe impact" on the delivery of care in hospitals.

“Core functions that help the NHS to run smoothly are better delivered if they’re in-house. It’s in the interests of patients and staff if the NHS has the capacity to run its own services,” she said. 

Members of the Textile Services Association employ 24,000 people, but they have 4,000 vacancies. “We could not fully service the UK economy at the moment because of staff shortages," Stevens warned. 

“So on a full recovery, it won't happen, it can't happen. And part of that will be because laundries haven't got the support we need, we can't generate what we need.”

A return to normality at bars, restaurants and hotels will inevitably lead to greater demand for laundry services, but Stevens worried the sector simply wouldn't be able to take on more work. 

"With hospitality we may not be able to service the demand and they may have to put laundry saving models in play like you don't change the bed linen as often," he continued. 

Stevens said some hotels can't sell all their rooms at the moment because they haven't got laundry.

“Which is crazy – just when you need to be picking up”, he said. “These laundries have had a nightmare and we need all the revenue we can get but we just can't produce.

“We’ve got some laundries operating at 70% capacity, and we couldn't go above that because of staffing, so we can't recover as we want to otherwise we're going to let our customers down.”Tony Sophoclides from UK Hospitality told PoliticsHome this is one of many shortage and supply chain problems hampering the sector from recovering.

“Bed and table linen plays an important role in many hospitality formats and there’s only a certain extent to which venues can innovate without harming the customer experience,” he said. 

There is also concern some smaller laundries may be forced to close because of rising energy costs. One firm in London saw their gas bill go from £7,000 a week to £27,000 because they've come to the end of the contract. This in turn puts more strain on the larger companies.

A government spokesperson said: “Ministers and officials continue to engage constructively with industry to further understand and to help mitigate the impacts of high global gas prices.

“Our priority is to ensure costs are managed and supplies of energy are maintained.”

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