Leaders: Watchdogs with bite welcome in our institutions
THERE are those who argue that our public institutions suffer from the tyranny of over-inspection and that the professionals who run our schools or hospitals or social services should be left to do their jobs free from interference from outside bodies who know far less about it than those working at the “coal face”.
While it is true there has in some cases been an excessive regulatory zeal – usually driven by the “something must be done” school of politics and politicians – the systems for inspection and regulation we have in Scotland can broadly be judged as acting reasonably in the interests of the consumers of public services.
Take the case of the health service watchdog, Healthcare Improvement Scotland. Despite its clumsy name this is a body which looks dispassionately and thoroughly at our hospitals to check they meet the standards patients and relatives are right to demand from the National Health Service.
In its latest report, the watchdog finds that staff at Borders General Hospital used inappropriate language on wards and failed to respect the confidentiality of patients’ records, and called for a major shake-up of procedures. The hospital was also described as “not dementia-friendly”, a point which will trouble families whose loved ones suffer from this condition.
Other recent inspections have found similarly worrying failings in the NHS. Inspectors found dirty toilets, poor management of bed linen and sharp objects and poor hand hygiene among staff at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. They found patients at Wishaw General Hospital had to wait so long for meals that staff encouraged visitors to bring in food and snacks.
Now, it is important to stress that these findings are not typical of the NHS which was, rightly, celebrated as the jewel in the crown of the United Kingdom’s welfare state in the Olympic Games opening ceremony. Most of Scotland’s hospitals, and the vast majority of the doctors, nurses and other staff in them, do exemplary, sometimes extraordinary, work day after day and deserve nothing but praise for doing so.
That effort by dedicated workers does not, however, mean there is no need for inspections to ensure the highest standards are met right across the service. Indeed, most NHS staff who care about the standards in our hospitals will welcome the rigor which regular inspections – sometimes unannounced – bring to the service they give to patients.
As with schools, social services, or care homes, the level of inspection must be proportionate to the likely risk of there being failures in the system. Those institutions with poor records should be subject to closer scrutiny. However, when we see the improvements in standards which generally ensue from inspection, the benefit of watchdogs – with teeth which can bite if necessary – cannot reasonably be questioned.
Glasgow’s smells better
Glasgow smells, and that’s official. Well, official in an artistic sense. After spending weeks sniffing around the dear green place in order to compile an olfactory map, designer Kate McLean has concluded Scotland’s largest city has its own unique whiff.
And before those from the capital get sniffy about the
second city of the Empire’s pong, it is worth pointing out that Ms McLean says the smell most
commonly associated with Glasgow is that of its subway, not anything more pungent, or indeed repugnant.
Other prominent odours
include the perfume of people socialising in the city centre, the scent of hot Bovril hanging over the football stadiums and the stench of carbolic soap, closely associated with the city’s tenements, where it was used to clean stairwells.
Somewhat ironically, Ms McLean’s smelly vision for Glasgow, and other cities including the capital, can be seen in a series of maps – which do not emit odours of any kind – she has drawn up to represent what is in the air
What is the point of such an exercise? Ms McLean has an
intriguing answer to that question. She argues that smell is an unusually evocative sense as it links with the area of the human brain responsible for emotion. By creating “smell maps” she aims to sensitise tourists and visitors to city environments in order to create lasting memories.
There is a sense to this approach but a smell map on its own is not really enough. If you want to get a real sense of what Glasgow – or any other city – smells like you have to get out there, take a deep breath and let your nose do the rest.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
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