A union has criticised the "breathtaking" decision to outsource the cleaning department in the district's NHS hospital.

Bosses at the Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust in Harlow put the cleaning services out to tender, having already begun market testing for its domestic and estates services.

It is now inviting private companies to bid on running the services and is expected to appoint a private contractor by July.

The move has been strongly criticised by UNISON which argued outsourcing services will drive down pay and conditions and create a two-tier workforce.

Caroline Hennessy, UNISON Eastern regional organiser, said: “It’s breathtaking that the hospital is threatening to outsource its hardworking cleaners while contracting giant Interserve is scrambling around for a rescue deal and so soon after the first anniversary of Carillion’s collapse.

“Private contractors have shown they can’t be relied on to run our public services, but bosses at the hospital are either not paying attention or they think it’s OK to gamble with patients’ safety to save a few quid.

“Patients shouldn’t be exposed to unsafe hygiene levels because a private contractor has cut services to boost their profits.

“And staff shouldn’t be forced onto worse pay and conditions for the sake of an ideologically driven attempt to privatise our vital NHS services.

“This is bad for patients, bad for staff, and bad for our NHS.

Jim McLeish, director of quality improvement at the hospital praised the cleaning staff and said their roles were "essential" in keeping the hospital clean, safe and welcoming.

He added: "We have started an exercise to review the range of domestic and hospitality services that we need to ensure that we are meeting the demands of a busy hospital and that our teams have the capacity to meet the workload this involves.

“This exercise is not seeking to reduce the number of people doing these important roles. We are working with our teams to make sure they are aware of the details and will continue to keep them informed.”