Innovate our cleaning culture, says keynote speaker

28th of April 2014
Innovate our cleaning culture, says keynote speaker

The presentation of the Amsterdam Innovation Award is always one of the highlights of the ISSA/INTERCLEAN exhibition. As in past years, the ceremony takes place on the opening day of the show and for 2104 the keynote speaker is Peter van Herrewege. He is the chairman and founder of Prime Life - a large group of care homes in the UK.

Although he is now chairman of a large group of care homes, Peter van Herrewege has long-standing connections with the cleaning sector. In fact he comes from five generations of brush makers - his origins are in Belgium. The family business was sold, however, so van Herrewege was forced to rethink his future.

In the early 1980s he invested in property for nursing homes - so went out of manufacturing into a service industry. Prime Life, the company van Herrewege founded, now has 63 care homes across the UK - caring for 2,000 people and employing 2,500 staff. It is the 12th largest provider in the UK.

The link between his business and the cleaning sector is clear, he says. "Care homes and all healthcare facilities must be spotlessly clean - there is no argument about that. Yet at any one time 10 per cent of wards and care home units are closed due to an infection outbreak. And one in six elderly people discharged from hospital have an infection they did not go in with. This means care homes are then obliged to carry out barrier nursing and take special measures. There is a huge cost associated with both closed facilities and readmissions."

In addressing the audience during his keynote speech van Herrewege will appeal for innovation - not necessarily in product development but in culture and thinking. "There are still so many shortfalls where cleanliness and hygiene are concerned so how do we deal with this?" he asks.

He believes the health and social care sector does not necessarily foster the right attitude towards the cleaning operation. "The job title operatives are given - ‘cleaner' - the uniform, their standing in the organisation. Clearly the cleaning operation is well down the scale when it comes to recognition and respect.

"We must recognise more the cost of current failings, and ensure that someone at board level has responsibility for hygiene within the hospital and social care sector. Protocols must be created, then adhered to."

Van Herrewege believes: "What's urgently needed is a cultural change. Cleaning is too often perceived as a low grade function, however my customers are very directly impacted by our cleanliness standards. I don't want to expose them to infection of course. Cleanliness is the basis of good care and the cornerstone of civilisation."

He emphasises: "Priority, exposure and expenditure in cleanliness and hygiene are absolutely necessary to maintain quality of life in the health and social care sector. And we must recognise the financial and human cost of failings."

Van Herrewege believes cleaning is typically taken for granted until there is a problem, then temporarily its status is lifted. "In health and social care are we really addressing the issue of hygiene properly? How can we better stop infection in the first place?

"The industry must break out of the stigma that it is the lowest function of an operation, because when it is not carried out properly so much damage can be caused. Everybody involved in professional cleaning must promote the industry better and break out of this attitude."

He adds: "The financial savings of reducing the number of infection outbreaks alone will save fortunes. Having facilities out of use because they are closed for deep cleaning costs money. And products are not the whole story- it comes down to skills and to recognition of a good job being well done."

To distributors and manufacturers of products he says: "I would advise you to focus more on the benefits and methods of cleaning rather than selling products alone. We must be looking beyond the products, towards solving significant problems and keeping services running. The real benefit is in altering the culture and the processes, and I realise cleaning companies are often faced with a short-sighted view from clients too.

"This is an enormous market, with much opportunity. Let's give the industry the standing and value it should have."

•Peter van Herrewege is the keynote speaker at the Amsterdam Innovation Award ceremony on the opening day of ISSA/INTERCLEAN, May 6. For more details visit



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