Politicians and patients groups are calling for the National Health Service to get back to basics after one in three hospitals failed recent hygiene inspections.
Out of 700 hospital buildings assessed as part of an ongoing government survey into NHS sanitation, 250 were given the lowest grade for basic cleanliness.
The checks were launched after an official report estimated that 5,000 patients a year died from infections they caught in hospital.
The inspections revealed evidence of dirty linen, untidy wards, uncollected rubbish and food trays left out for days.
Head of the Patients Association Mike
Stone said the situation was unacceptable.
"In some of the hospitals we saw clinical waste just lying around," he said.
"At one hospital that I visited there were two pigeons flying around in the entrance way. This shouldn't be happening."
The findings were disclosed in the industry magazine Health Service Journal, based on figures from a branch of the Department of Health.
Hospital managers blame years of under-investment
in ageing buildings.
Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox described the findings as a "damning indictment of Health Secretary Alan Milburn".
NHS wards remain filthy and a danger to the public," he said.
"I have visited wards where the state of the floor under beds would have provided enough material for a David Bellamy mini-series."
Dr Fox called for a return to basic "matron's values of cleanliness".
Last November a report for MPs linked poor personal hygiene practices of staff with disease outbreaks in hospitals.
St Thomas's Hospital in London was forced to close its operating theatres for heart surgery last August after two patients died from the superbug MRSA.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow, described the latest findings as "the legacy of a contract culture which has elevated cost cutting above public safety".
"All cleaning contracts must now be reviewed. It is no longer clear who is in charge on hospital wards," he said.
"Decisions about cleaning contracts should be taken at ward level. It is time to bring back matron."
The Department of Health said the government had committed tens of millions of pounds to cleaning up hospital wards.
The investment was part of a massive programme to improve hospital hygiene and is committed to carrying out hospital surveys under the NHS plan, it said.
"We think it's inaccurate to give figures at this time before the survey is completed," a spokesman said.
"It has been going on for some time and two sets of visits to hospitals are due to take place over the next month or so."
Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said he accepted the report's findings and blamed the hygiene problem on a cost-cutting culture imposed on the NHS by politicians over the past two decades.
"What (NHS managers) have tended to do is look at areas which didn't affect the care of patients and over a course of years I am afraid what has happened is that cleaning and catering and some of those hotel services have suffered the brunt of major cuts in provision."