PATIENTS being treated for infectious diseases at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital could have been put at risk after an investigation found wards are facing widespread shortages of protective antibacterial hand gel.

The Evening Times carried out tests of hand rub dispensers at the hospital, which is facing a government inquiry after two patients died after contracting an infection linked to pigeon droppings.

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

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

A total of 96 separate tests were carried out by reporters on June 18, 20 and 24 at roughly the same time of around 3.30pm and 36 of the dispensers were either empty or broken.

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

Read more:Is Glasgow's super-hospital safe? Inquiry to focus on safety of QEUH

The Arran wards, which treat patients affected by respiratory diseases and gastroenterology complaints, was 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. 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 gastroenterology patients including those suffering from stomach bugs - had the worst provision with no antibacterial gel available on all three days we carried out tests.

Across the Bute Wards, which care for patients with respiratory diseases, renal conditions and infectious diseases, 16 of the hand dispensers were empty or broken during 48 separate tests.

Two wards had no provision of hand gel on the three days we carried out the tests: Ward 7c, which cares for patients with respiratory illnesses and ward 5c, which treats communicable diseases.

In March, a snap inspection of the hospital carried out by government inspectors found three alcohol-based hand rub dispensers were empty at the entrance to three wards.

The dispensers are generally refilled by auxilliary nurses or domestic staff. Official figures show that the number of maintenance staff has fallen significantly over the past two years. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) had 385 maintenance and estate staff in 2018, a drop of more than 11 per cent on the number it employed in 2016.

Read more:Inquiry experts 'not certain' of infection death tally at Queen Elizabeth hospital

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 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.”

Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman said: “This is unacceptable. Hospitals should not be running out of hand gel and the Evening Times investigation has shown that complacency continues at the flagship QEUH, where infection-related deaths remain under investigation.”

An independent inquiry was announced by the Scottish 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.

Read more:Pigeon bug: No air filter in room of child who died after contracting pigeon infection

A third death, involving a 63-year-old patient who was 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, which cost £842m, and have been linked to issues with water quality and ventilation systems.

Dr Brian Montgomery and Dr Andrew Fraser, who are leading the inquiry, formally asked for anyone who may have relevant information to come forward, at an event in Glasgow earlier this month.

A woman, whose 73-year-old mother died after contracting the Cryptococcus infection - linked to pigeon droppings - was among those attending the event,

Beth Armstrong’s mother, Gail, who was from Glasgow’s Queen’s Park area, was being treated for cancer.

A spokesman for NHSGGC 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 placed 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.

“In addition to these dispensers, there are 3,462 clinical hand wash basins throughout the hospital with one located in each patient room as well as a standard wash basin.

“We also have 114 dispensers placed outside wards.

“All of these are now full and broken dispensers have been replaced.

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