FEARS have been raised over a loss of infection control expertise at Scotland’s largest health board in the wake of a series of outbreak scandals.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde will not replace the role of lead infection control nurse at the Gartnavel campus in Glasgow.

The post - which covers Gartnavel General Hospital, the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, and Gartnavel Royal mental health partnerships - has been empty for more than a year after the previous occupant left for a new job with Health Protection Scotland.

Initial recruitment plans were abandoned while the post was reviewed, and the health board has now confirmed that the vacancy will instead be filled by three infection prevention and control “support workers” following a service redesign.

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It comes after whistleblowers claimed Covid had spread “like [viruses do on] a cruise ship” through Gartnavel, killing 25 patients and infecting 81 others in a matter of weeks.

Patients had been transferred from single rooms at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital to mixed wards at Gartnavel for rehabilitation following surgery.

An orthopaedic study published last week revealed that two elderly hip fracture patients were among those who died, with eight others testing positive for the virus between March and April.

The doctors who led the research concluded that it was "likely that many of these infections were picked up in hospital...[possibly] after transfer to rehabilitation".

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The health board has also faced scrutiny over a string of bloodstream and rare fungal infections among cancer patients treated at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) and Royal Hospital for Children, with a public inquiry into the superhospital due to get underway on Monday.

NHS GGC said the new support workers at the Gartnavel campus "will require extensive experience within a clinical environment". Their tasks will include infection monitoring and audit.

The health board stresses that this will increase the overall number of infection control staff across its hospitals from 43 to 46, while retaining one infection control nurse (ICN) on site.

The rest will be redeployed to QEUH and Glasgow Royal Infirmary campuses.

Sources told the Herald that staff are worried skills and leadership will be lost.

One said: "The replacements for the lead nurse are not qualified infection control nurses - they are audit staff . Yes, the numbers may increase on paper but the infection control specialist role numbers drop."

They referred to the lessons of the Vale of Leven clostridium difficile tragedy, which claimed at least 34 patients' lives in 2007 and 2008.

A subsequent inquiry was critical that the infection control nurse who handled the bulk of the workload had never obtained a qualification in infection control, saying this "should have been an essential requirement".

A source said the ICN team for Gartnavel and the Beatson were already struggling to meet demands, and feared the consequences of leaving just one ICN with only support workers on site - especially with the continued threat of a Covid resurgence.

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They also insisted that as recently as two weeks ago they had been told by the health board that there would no longer be any ICNs based at the Gartnavel campus.

They said: "The risks are all too apparent when you downsize a clinical team: inability to maintain the clinical workload; risk of human error by the remaining team members due to increased workload; risk of stress or other mental health issues on the remaining team members due to increased workload and responsibility."

Monica Lennon, Scottish labour's health spokeswoman, said: “With growing concerns about NHS preparedness for winter and a potential second wave of the virus, a shortage of qualified infection control nurses is extremely concerning.

“If we can spend £43 million in a matter of weeks on the NHS Louisa Jordan, surely we can invest in enough infection control nurses to cover all of Scotland’s hospitals?”

In a statement, NHS GGC said patient safety "remains our top priority".

It added: "As part of a service remodel, the lead nurse post at Gartnavel is being replaced with three additional new infection prevention and control support worker who will undertake a range of clinical and non-clinical tasks which allow infection control nurses to focus on progressing the Quality Improvement elements of the new Infection Prevention and Control Audit Tool.

"This new approach will result in an increase in the overall number of infection prevention and control staff from 43 to 46, meaning there will be a bigger, more diverse team working across sites, including Gartnavel, with additional capacity to monitor and implement infection control measures and rapidly respond wherever required.

"As part of the new model, there continues to be an infection control nurse on site at Gartnavel and the site also still has access to a lead nurse for infection control and prevention."