HARD-BITTEN NHS campaigner John Lister was shocked at the depth of feelings expressed by North-East hospital workers.

During a fact-finding visit to the region, he carried out exhaustive interviews with scores of staff working in the North-East's newest hospitals.

If he was expecting to find staff happy to be working in state-of-the-art facilities, he was disappointed.

Mr Lister, who is director of information for the pressure group Health Emergency, talked to staff at Bishop Auckland General Hospital, in County Durham.

The £67m privately financed (PFI) hospital was opened by Tony Blair in July 2000.

At the ceremony, the Prime Minister told local people: "We have a real chance of rebuilding the health service in the way we all want."

Mr Lister's aim was simple: he wanted to know what staff thought about the growing number of privately-financed NHS hospitals.

While his full report will not be made public until later this month, a leaked transcript of his interview with staff at Bishop Auckland was passed to The Northern Echo.

The conclusion drawn from his interviews at all nine NHS hospitals built under the Government's private finance initiative (PFI) makes uncomfortable reading for the Government.

"They might have quite glitzy-looking hospitals on the outside but they have bitter and demotivated staff on the inside," he said.

A Unison official at the 357-bed hospital told Mr Lister: "You have to remember that this hospital was a very friendly place before they decided to privatise the support staff. PFI changed all that."

Domestics and porters who have joined the hospital since the November 2001 change-over are on inferior pay and conditions to their NHS colleagues, he said.

Cleaners interviewed by Mr Lister during his visit were particularly outspoken about declining standards of cleanliness.

"Another worry is hygiene on the ward - there is none whatsoever. It's absolutely disgraceful. The workload is triple what it used to be," the unnamed cleaner said.

"There are three different contracts covering domestics doing the same job... whichever contract you are on, there is far too much work for one person.

"We used to have one full-time and one part-time domestic for a 22-bed ward with two side-rooms. Now we have just one full-time to cover a 28 bed ward.

"But it's worse than that, because we are serving dinners now, when we used to have ward assistants doing that," the domestic added.

Staff also voiced their anger that they were told their new employer would not pay for winter flu jabs, which were previously provided by the NHS trust.

They also complained about being "short of everything we need to do the job".

A porter said domestic staff were getting needle stick injuries because of young people injecting drugs in hospital toilets - a short distance away from young children - and then dumping used needles in bins.

"We are just lowly members of the portering staff, and we haven't been trained as security staff, but we have to cope with all sorts of demands to carry out security jobs," he told Mr Lister.

ISS Mediclean, the UK hospital service arm of the ISS Group, won the contract to provide cleaning and patient services for the hospital.

The service contract awarded to ISS has a duration of up to 30 years. Officials will review it after the first five years.

The PFI project to develop and operate the hospital for the South Durham Healthcare NHS Trust is expected to generate an annual turnover of £1.8m or £54m over 30 years.

The Danish organisation is one of the world's largest facility service groups that employs more than 260,000 people worldwide.

John Saxby, chief executive of County Durham and Darlington Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "Issues relating to terms and conditions of employment of ISS staff are quite properly a matter for ISS and we can not comment on these.

"With regards to the cleanliness of the hospital, our most recent inspection by the NHS' Patient Environment and Access Team, which monitors cleanliness in hospitals, did not report any concerns at Bishop Auckland.

"We also have monitoring mechanisms in place to check that standards are being met and hold regular meetings with our private sector partners to discuss any issues."

No one from ISS was available for comment.