From the start, the Society of Hospital Laundry Managers and Linen Services conference held in Blackpool tackled the controversial issues. The first subject, linen vs. disposables was so hot that several people had turned down the invitation to speak. Fortunately, Shaun Deneen, steriles/textile services manager for Winchester and Eastleigh Healthcare Trust, took up the challenge.

In the light of an expected EU standard, he asked: “Is this the end for linen? He then put the case for disposables: products are CE-marked; items are prepackaged and sterile so there is no need for process validation; standards are guaranteed; and the particle counts in theatres may be reduced. There are also logistics arguments such as easier storage, emergency overnight deliveries, and easier receipt and invoice handling.

Against this must be balanced high costs, with the prospect of sudden price rises if material costs increase. Standardised packs could lead to wastage of unwanted items. Disposable gowns and drapes could be less comfortable for the patient during long procedures.

The case for reusables is they are cheaper on a like-for-like basis. Prices are fixed. When linen is rented, the suppliers carry replacement costs. Packs can be tailor-made.

On the downside, many suppliers are not CE-marked, not all offer sterilisation services and there are risks in that barrier fabrics may not be adequately monitored.

Mr Deneen said that the fear that reusables would be outlawed under EU directives is unfounded. It would clarify test methods for drapes and operating gowns whether reusable or disposable. He advised linen suppliers to consider CE marking, to make sure prices remained competitive and that they offered a flexible service.

The Industry still awaits the publication of Government proposals to replace competitive tendering with a new criteria of best value. Consultant and advisor on Government policy Cliff Price gave delegates a guide to its impact and suggested an approach to demonstrating best value to the NHS.

The Government proposes that over a five year period all support services will be tested on the basis of best value.

Mr Price suggested using ‘the five C’s’ challenge, compare (with what has been done elsewhere and remembering large operations can learn from small), consult (with stakeholders), compete and collaborate.

He suggested that managers should: • Define their corporate policy.

• Define their own service’s basic policy.

• Consult stakeholders.

• Develop the policy.

• Consult further.

Going through these stages would give managers an idea of where the service stood now and what would be expected in future.


Terry Finch of the Health Facilities Management Association addressed the subject of benchmarking. Frustrating and time-consuming though it may be, the pursuit of excellence is the key to survival and benchmarking is part of this pursuit.

It is essential to seek the patient views, and network and communicate with other service operators.

Benchmarking is defined as the understanding and adapting of outstanding practice to improve performance in the public sector. It should not be seen as a competitive analysis, or as a copy and catch-up exercise, and definitely not as a quick-fix to financial or quality problems.

Disaster strikes

The conference closed by addressing contingency planning. To drive home the necessity of having contingency plans society president, Ian Hargreaves, described the problems he faced when his laundry’s ironers failed and remained out of action for five weeks. His message was that emergencies are your problem.

Why should others solve them? Promised help does not always arrive and if it does, it will be costly. On the way to finding a solution there will be many practical problems to solve.

Tim Litherland of NHS Estates then suggested ways to plan ahead. He outlined the Control Assurance Standards introduced in May last year (HSG99/123), eighteen in all, including risk management, remainder organisation and emergency preparedness.

The key points in being prepared are making sure risks are understood at board level, having a service continuity plan in place, identifying risks and establishing plans to mitigate them, training staff and having evidence of testing and monitoring of such plans.

In the event of a catastrophe, options include: do nothing; have a flexible framework in place; or have a robust plan for all scenarios.

Limit risk by

• Using service providers.

• Having reciprocal arrangements with others.

He asked the audience “What do you have in place; who are your partners; do you know your capacities and capabilities?” He suggested that managers should visit for further information.

A session on money saving ideas included Henkel Ecolab talking on water treatment systems, and DataMars’ Roberto Dotti explaining the benefits of a garment identification system and the use of RFID systems. There was also an exhibition and a pre-conference workshop on workwear with speakers from garment suppliers CCM, and Alexandra, the FCRA, and the government purchasing agency NHS Supplies. LCN hopes to publish some of the papers in future issues.