Back to the floor - The journey of a sheet

I did one of my back to the floor shifts in the linen room at RPH. I love finding about things in our hospitals that only a few people have any awareness about. For those of you who don't know, there are 7 members of staff, mostly part time, who between them have clocked up nearly 136 years working in the linen room and as you can probably guess they know each other very well indeed! They deliver to 75 wards and departments, distributing 12,860 pieces of linen every day which means that last year they received and re-distributed 2,762,225 pieces excluding scrubs.

Karen and Linen room staff

When I arrived I was greeted by Karen the Linen Services Manager who told me all about the team and the services they provide. Their base is in a large rectangular room with very high ceilings and plastic vertical strips in front of a large open doorway - the strips are designed to keep the wind and cold air out but from where I was standing it wasn't that effective. As far as the eye could see there were large metal linen cages that had to be loaded up for laundry delivery to the 5 sections that they had divided the hospital into.  In order to deliver each ward/department with laundry in a timely way the cages have to be filled with the right stock level each area needs so the team does a bit of a reconnoitre first. Linen Hand truck Then the cage is linked up to a great piece of equipment called a Master-mover - a little yellow devil that makes the cage manoeuvrable and goes at variable speeds. For my shift I was paired up with Sam who showed me how to use the machine, make it go forward, reverse, slow down and speed up all of which was easy to understand and follow. I did well for a first timer and got the load to the lifts without injuring any staff or patients - well not seriously anyway! A few good folks didn't realise just how quickly they could shift when the alternative options included being crushed! We took the cage up to the top floor leaving the master-mover behind having remembered to remove the keys first. Most wards have their linen cupboards arranged in the same order -  including pillows on the bottom shelf which is a requirement by our Infection Control team  (those of you who haven't followed that instruction please do! I wouldn't want to be in your shoes if you're caught by the red tops! That's not a euphemism by the way's just the colour of uniform they wear!) Sam and I went to every ward on every floor in our section and to be fair the cupboards were really well ordered and tidy. She showed me the linen chutes that we use for soiled linen and explained that this part of laundry management is the porters domain - we did find one chute that wasn't working so the porters had to move the load manually. When we returned to the ground floor we hitched the cage back to the Master-mover and you know what? I forgot everything Sam had taught me. It appears I can't use a Master-mover and chew gum at the same time!!! I was so busy talking to Sam that I forgot I could take my thumb off the accelerator button, turn corners or change direction and with the wretched machine behind me and pushing me forward at a rate of knots ended up running myself into the wall of the linen room head first, cage following close second. I'm not proud of it but I did promise to reveal my disgrace in my blog so there you have it!

The team are rightly very proud of some of the things they have achieved... they won a national Customer Service award in 2012 and more recently the sewing room ladies won one of our hospital quality awards as part of a wider team working to look after our patients who have dementia; their contribution was by making activity blankets. These blankets are fantastic for our older patients who like being active with their hands, I was so impressed that I have asked them if I could buy one for one of my relatives who is very elderly and now immobile, but is really calmed by fastening buttons and zips, putting hankies in small pockets and generally keeping busy while chatting to family. The team are evaluating this as a commercial prospect - good luck to them.  They also won a special award from the Workplace Familiarisation students for being the best placement in the programme! For those of you who aren't aware of this programme every year we take students with learning difficulties and/or physical difficulties from Runshaw College and Cardinal Newman College for a combination of classroom and workplace experience over an 8 week period. As part of that programme the students work somewhere in the hospital for 1 day per week over a 5 week period. It's been a great programme running over 6 years and we have been able to 'job carve' which means that some students who can do a small part of a job can be employed to do just that element.

This team is incredibly passionate about what they do and how they contribute to the hospital and patient care. Sam is the EAR (environment awareness representative) and she tells me that they recycle 93% of their rubbish - isn't that incredible? They are also absolutely focused on making sure they receive value for money and showed me invoices they had raised with our external suppliers for refunds when they could prove the goods invoiced for did not match the goods that arrived.  Rarely were these for huge sums of money but as they said every penny counts.  They know the cost of linen each month by department and can calculate the cost in linen of each escalated bed. I was so surprised at how much each ward and department spends, it ranges from 36K per month to 54K per month per ward!!!  And as for pillows - they have a call off order for 3,000 per year and last year they called off 5,000. Where are they? Is someone eating them?! Perhaps a pillow amnesty is called for so if you're storing several decades worth in one of your departments please give them back to the linen room. No recriminations, no blame, no need to bring your lawyer!

They have a business continuity plan that they have spent a great deal of time on so that in the event of an emergency even a total stranger with no knowledge of the hospital or linen room could ensure linen is available to all those areas receiving emergency patients - they've even taken pictures and created visual maps. They showed me where they keep the scrubs and emergency linen for events such as swine flu when we thought we may need to call staff in at very short notice and who may not have had access to uniforms (the pink scrubs for swine flu are nicknamed 'piggy-pinks' - that made me laugh!)

So what did I see that we could help with? Very little actually other than making sure the linen chutes work so I'll chat to Miles about that. They don't ask for much except a plea from the heart; when you're redesigning an area please don't change linen cupboards into stationary cupboards. Help them be able to do their job properly for you and our patients. Everyone in our hospital has a part to play and without linen we wouldn't be able to put our sickest patients into beds at the time they need them most.

So to Karen, Sam, Barbara, Joan, Pauline, Peter, Caroline and Fiona a huge thank you for letting me be a part of your team for a short-while.  I really enjoyed it and loved your passion for our hospitals and patients. And don't forget - if I'm needed in the linen room in an emergency ....that Master-mover's mine!