PATIENTS being treated for infectious diseases at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow, may have been put at risk after an investigation found widespread shortages of anti-bacterial hand gel outside wards.

Secret tests were made of hand rub dispensers at the hospital, which is facing a Scottish Government inquiry after two patients died after contracting an infection linked to pigeon droppings.

During the tests, a dispenser directly outside ward 5c, which cares for patients with “communicable diseases” (spread by human contact), was empty on three separate days in one week during June.

A cancer ward (4c) also had no direct provision for visitors on the three occasions it was tested.

A health board spokesman said there are 2,608 dispensers across the £842million super-hospital, including 114 outside wards, but added: “Additional measures are now in place to ensure these are more robustly monitored.”

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A total of 96 separate tests were carried out by reporters on June 18, 20 and 24, all about 3.30pm, and 36 dispensers were empty or broken.

The investigation was prompted after relatives contacted our sister paper the Evening Times to complain about shortages of hand gel across multiple wards.

The Arran wards, which treat patients affected by respiratory diseases and gastroenterology complaints, were worst affected, with almost half of the dispensers found to be empty at the time they were tested.

On June 18, nine of the 16 dispensers had no provision of hand sanitiser. Of the 48 separate tests carried out, 23 were empty in wards that care for patients recovering from kidney transplants, as well as general surgery and orthopaedic procedures.

In ward 6b, the dispenser was empty on June 20 and four days later had no hand gel.

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During the tests many of the adjoining wards, such as ward 6a, had provision but they are accessed through a separate door.

Ward 8b, which treats gastro-enterology patients, including those suffering from stomach bugs, had the worst provision, with no antibacterial gel available on all three days we carried out tests.

The dispensers are generally refilled by auxiliary nurses or maintenance staff. Official figures show the number of maintenance staff has fallen significantly over the past two years.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde had 385 maintenance and estate staff in 2018, a drop of more than 11 per cent on the number it employed in 2016.

Studies have shown alcohol-based hand rubs are effective against bacteria, including E.coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), as well as respiratory viruses, but are less effective against bacterial spores, such as those produced by Clostridium difficile.

Glasgow Conservative MSP Annie Wells said: “With the hospital currently facing a number of inquiries I am sure patients and those living in Glasgow will be alarmed at the lack of dispensers being available in wards where they absolutely should be.

“Having these dispensers full of gel is an absolute basic that should be happening at all times in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.”

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An independent inquiry was announced by the Government after two people, a 10-year-old boy and a 73-year-old woman, died after contracting a bug linked to pigeon droppings.

The inquiry aims to establish whether hospital design or maintenance hinders staff controlling infection outbreaks.

A third death, involving a patient, 63, who contracted the fungal infection Mucor, is also being investigated.

Several rare microbiological contaminants with the potential to cause serious infections have also been identified at the hospital and have been linked to issues with water quality and ventilation systems.

A spokesman for the health board said: “There are 2,608 alcohol-based hand rub dispensers in wards and departments across the hospital."

“Dispensers are strategically placed in a number of locations within every ward, with at least one inside a ward’s entrance. They are also found in every patient bedroom, cleaners’ room, utility room, treatment and preparation area, and every consulting room.

“Additional measures are now in place to ensure these are more robustly monitored.”