A rat infestation has been discovered in a hospital kitchen which serves 1,500 patient meals a day, KentOnline can reveal.
Cameras were installed and pest control visited daily to eliminate the rodents from the facility at the William Harvey in Ashford.
Bait and traps have been set up in the kitchen run by 2gether Support Solutions, a company which is owned by East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust (EKHUFT).
Food hygiene inspectors discovered the rat problem on a recent visit to the subsidiary company’s restaurant and kitchen from where meals are sent out to patients on the wards.
They also found areas were “cluttered” and some staff training was a year out of date.
2gether was given a two-star rating, which means improvement in food hygiene standards is necessary.
The findings were exclusively obtained by KentOnline through a Freedom of Information request to Ashford Borough Council.
Inspectors visited the site on October 5 as part of a full food hygiene inspection.
“You have issues with rats accessing the kitchen and you have been working with your pest control contractor to bring the situation under control,” they wrote.
“You have put systems in place to minimise the risk of contamination, including moving food susceptible to pest damage to a secure room, putting food into pest-proof containers and ensuring the kitchen is cleaned and sanitised before use every morning.
“Continue to work with your pest control contractor to eliminate the problem and implement any recommendations from them.
“Ensure the area around the compactor is kept clear of all food debris and wrappers.”
The inspector acknowledges the rat “infestation” was being treated before the inspection and the company says it has “already implemented a number of changes” while a subsequent visit has found to “have no concerns with any patient feeding areas”.
Pest control had been visiting daily - baiting and trapping - and cameras were put into the kitchen to monitor activity in advance of the inspection.
2gether Support Solutions was formed in 2018 and is owned by EKHUFT to “secure strong vibrant core facilities and support services for the long term”, according to its website.
As well as at the William Harvey Hospital, the firm operates at the QEQM in Margate, Buckland Hospital in Dover, Royal Victoria Hospital in Folkestone, and the Kent and Canterbury Hospital in the city.
EKHUFT signed a 25-year contract with 2gether when it formed five years ago and operates services including catering, cleaning, portering and security.
Inspectors also found “some staff training is out of date by one year” and told bosses at 2gether to repair the wall between the restaurant and kitchen washing up areas, which is water-damaged.
“The area in which food containers are stored is cluttered and disorganised,” the report added. “This could provide harbourage for pests.
‘Continue to work with your pest control contractor to eliminate the problem...’
“Provide shelving for this area to allow cleaning to take place and identification of pest activity.
“The walk-in chillers for patients’ meals are disorganised, making stock control and rotation difficult.
“The boxes the meals are delivered in are collapsing.
“Provide shelving in these freezers so stock can be properly set out in date order and effective cleaning of the unit can be carried out.”
About 1,500 patient meals are served every day by 2gether across wards at the William Harvey, as well as 350 restaurant meals.
Food is transported from the main kitchen to wards as individual frozen meals in insulated boxes with an inbuilt icepack.
In response to the rating on the Food Standards Agency website, the firm said: “We have already implemented a number of changes to improve the hygiene standards at our restaurant at the William Harvey Hospital.
“2gether Support Solutions takes its obligation to ensure clean and safe environments in its kitchens extremely seriously.
“We have been transparent with the EHO [environmental health officer] about a number of ongoing challenges at the William Harvey Hospital which we had previously identified. We have shared with the EHO all the mitigation actions already implemented to ensure food safety for our patients, staff and visitors.
“We are pleased to note that during a recent EHO follow-on visit, the ward-based kitchens at the William Harvey Hospital were assessed and found to have no concerns with any patient feeding areas.”
Ben Stevens, chief strategy and partnerships officer at EKHUFT, says it takes its obligation to ensure clean and safe environments in its kitchens “extremely seriously”.
“We were disappointed by the findings of the inspection carried out by the local authority environmental health officers in early October and have already implemented a number of changes to improve the hygiene standards at the William Harvey Hospital,” he said.
“This includes new storing facilities for food areas, implementing additional cleans and ensuring staff are fully compliant with all training.
“We were very pleased that during the most recent visit, the EHO noted the changes that had been made and found no concerns in any of our ward-based kitchens.”