Progress made in tackling hospital infections in Scotland could come under threat if nursing numbers are cut, representatives of the profession has warned.

Ellen Hudson, an associate director at the Royal College of Nursing, made the comments as the Healthcare Associated Infection task force report for 2008-11 was published.

She said the “right number” of nurses, healthcare support workers and cleaners was “vital” to prevent infections.

But health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the report highlighted “just how far we have come - with rates of C difficile and MRSA now at an all time low”.

Ms Hudson said: “A lot of progress has been made in reducing HAIs, thanks to increased investment and the dedication of healthcare staff.

“However, the progress that has been made could be undermined if health boards continue to save money by cutting the number of nurses and other staff they employ.

“Indeed, the latest NHS Scotland staff survey showed that only 19 per cent of nurses feel they can meet all conflicting demands on their time and only 18 per cent think there is enough staff to allow them to do their job properly - and this survey was carried out before the cuts started.”

“HAIs can be reduced even further but this will only be achieved if we have an NHS workforce equipped to continue the battle and that is not further overstretched by the cuts that are already being made,” she added.

The report highlighted initiatives including tripling funding from £15m to £54m to support a “more comprehensive” HAI delivery plan and introducing an action plan to lower infections across health boards.

Developing infection control standards that are used by the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate for hospital inspections were also listed in the report.

The executive summary of the report stated: “The HAI task force has worked over the past three years to ensure that NHS Scotland is supported to address HAI in a co-ordinated way.

“Encouragingly, recent Health Protection Scotland quarterly reports on rates and cases of Clostridium difficile and MRSA infections confirm decreases across the country: indeed, cases of Clostridium difficile infections in over-65s and MRSA are now at their lowest levels since mandatory surveillance began.

“This not only means fewer patients becoming ill from HAIs and more resources being freed up to support frontline services, but also leads to shorter patient stays in hospital.”