CLEANING staff at Hinchingbrooke Hospital have been made redundant and cleaning hours cut by almost half.

Circle's contractor has announced that 24 employees will lose their jobs and the current 11.5-hour cleaning shift will reduce by five-and-a-half hours a night.

Hospital bosses have renegotiated its £130,000-a-month contract with Mitie and say the cuts will not affect the cleaning of wards.

A spokesman for the hospital said: "Under the refined contract, cleaning in clinical areas will be maintained and in some areas increased. Cleaning in the offices and residential areas - where nurses, doctors and managers live - will be reduced appropriately where it was over specified.

"We ensured that the new contract allows us to meet all operational and infection control requirements. Mitie is committed to work with us to maintain improvements made in safety and quality since February."

Steve Sweeney, branch secretary of Huntingdonshire Trades Union Congress, relaunched the Hands Off Hinchingbrooke campaign last month.

"These are exactly the things we warned would happen if Circle took over," he said. "It is an easy decision to make to cut the cleaning staff but it is an essential part of the hospital.

"If you don't clean offices as often, the staff are still going to move onto the wards so germs will be transported that way - it is putting patients at risk of infections."

He added: "When Circle took over, they said they would look at the efficiency of the hospital, which means cutting staff.

"The question is - who next? It has already been widely reported that nursing jobs are at risk.

"We are only months into the 10-year contract and, if they are already making cuts, we've got to look at whether the contract is viable and sustainable.

"It is a stark warning to any other hospital thinking about going down the Hinchingbrooke route."