Tracey Gauci speaks to Genevieve Rice about her career in infection prevention and control and how she became an influence in the area both nationally and internationally
As the days get colder and scarfs and hats return as common accessories across the UK, tissue sales increase as the people unite against a shared enemy: the common cold. We all know it and dread its visits, arming ourselves with cough and cold remedies and flu jabs, to prevent the virus. Just as we take measures to prevent illness, NHS organisations take measures to monitor, advise, prevent and control infection.
This work is spearheaded by infection prevention and control (IPC) teams across the UK, and they fight much more than the sniffles. They monitor the spread of infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile and bloodstream infections, advising on ways to stop them.
In Wales, this movement has been greatly influenced by Tracey Gauci, who has championed IPC from within the NHS, the Welsh government, and now a health company.
After leaving school, Tracey studied English and Italian at Warwick University, one of the first universities to have a programme in nursing. After a chance conversation with her tutor, who suggested she talk to someone in the nursing department, “it just snowballed from there really,” said Ms Gauci. “It was an impulsive moment that turned into a lifetime career.”
Tracey began her nursing journey as a student in Charing Cross Hospital, London where she was greatly influenced by the work of the local infection control team. Her first role in IPC was within the NHS in Peterborough, where she worked as a manager of a surgical high-dependency unit before returning to work closer to home in Wales, but not before completing her degree in IPC as one of the first cohort of students at the University of Hertfordshire.
After a few years practising IPC in South Wales, she “was invited into the Welsh government to lead a clean hospitals project. That was a two-year secondment that became three, that became
15 in the end”, she said. I became the nursing officer for communicable disease control in 2001, remaining in post until October 2015. I was a professional advisor to the Welsh government, working within the Office of the Chief Nursing Officer, providing advice to both the minister, professional colleagues and the NHS,” Tracey explained.
She influenced, supported and expanded infection prevention in Wales, remaining connected to NHS issues and concerns, providing a conduit between the NHS, Welsh government and governments across the UK – linking up with nursing officers in the other UK health departments .
“During my time at the Welsh government, I tried to make sure that I stayed in close contact with IPC teams working on the ground. I made it a priority to know what was going on in the ‘real world’, so that I could hopefully support the teams more effectively and provide well-informed advice to policy-makers and advisors within government, ultimately improving patient safety and quality of care,” she said.
Despite the fact she thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated her role within the Welsh government and the opportunities it afforded her, not to mention the network of contacts she established over the years, she felt her career moving back towards the NHS again in 2015. She accepted the role of assistant director of nursing at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, with responsibility for IPC.
“It was time to move on, refresh my ‘hands on’ experience and ultimately take on a new challenge”. In October 2017 she took up her position of deputy clinical director with GAMA Healthcare, a UK-based company, which says its mission is to develop and supply evidence-based solutions to infection prevention. Through it, Tracey has had the opportunity to widen her influence, working around the world and supporting IPC teams globally.
Her work involves education and training; supporting research and development; and advising IPC teams in both the private and public sectors through not just presentations at conferences, but hospital visits and Q&A sessions where she gets to sit down with teams and discuss IPC.
She remains on the board of the Infection Prevention Society and is the coordinator of the Welsh branch. She is also patron to the Association of Healthcare Cleaning Professionals, championing the role of cleaning staff within the NHS and the importance of environmental decontamination in reducing healthcare-associated infections at every opportunity.
Tracey’s career has given her the opportunity to influence IPC worldwide. Her influence was gained through her diligence and experiences that will continue to benefit the UK as she seeks to further educate and innovate.