WORCESTER'S Newtown hospital and the downgraded Kidderminster General have won top scores in an independent cleanliness and friendliness survey.

They were among several Worcestershire hospital sites to be praised for their high standards following a recent inspection as part of a Government-led initiative to clean up Britain's hospitals.

The Patient Environment Programme was launched by Health Minister Alan Milburn to ensure hospitals maintained high standards of cleanliness and made the continued improvements expected by patients.

Yesterday, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust announced the majority of its hospitals had been praised as a result of the inspections carried out by an independent body made up of staff from the NHS and the private sector.

Only one was reported to have slipped in standards - Worcester's Castle Street.

"The inspections were not just about cleanliness," said Cathryn Plain, director of nursing, midwifery and Professionals Allied to Medicine.

"The hospitals were graded on a whole range of issues including tidiness, whether patients could find their way about easily, whether they were greeted and given help when they arrived, or the state of the gardens outside."

The Trust allocated £250,000 for hospital improvements and most of the money was spent on the Alexandra Hospital at Redditch through a number of measures, including staff training and plans to make the reception area more patient-friendly.

"The aim of the inspections was to deliver improvements and once those improvements were made, ensuring standards are maintained. We felt it wouldn't be the thing to do to spend the money on Ronkswood and Castle Street as they'll be replaced with the new hospital," added Mrs Plain.

The hospitals were given just 24 hours notice before they were inspected and staff were not told which areas would be visited until the day.

Inspectors graded on a scale of one to four - one being unacceptable and four being of a high standard.

Both Newtown and Kidderminster scored a four, with inspectors commenting on the high standard of cleanliness, while Ronkswood and the Alex both scored three with inspectors again commenting on the cleanliness, although they listed lack of storage space on wards at the Alex as a weakness.

Castle Street, which will close in 12 months, scored just two.

"Overall the scores were very good and we weren't heavily criticised for any of the areas inspected, but we can always make improvements," said Mrs Plain.