Labour propose new Scots health watchdog

A TOUGH new health watchdog that could send “troubleshooting” teams into Scottish hospitals in a bid to improve standards has been proposed by Labour.

Labour have proposed a new watchdog. Picture: Jayne Wright

• Merger of Health Improvement Scotland and Care Inspectorate proposed

• New body proposed by Labour would be able to launch unannounced inspections, criminal investigations

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Labour said the existing regulatory regime was both “confusing” and “toothless”. It wants the NHS scrutiny body Healthcare Improvement Scotland to be merged with the Care Inspectorate, which monitors care services throughout Scotland.

This new body, which Labour proposes to call Care Improvement Scotland, would be “truly independent of government” and would be able to take “tough, decisive action”.

The proposals, which have been agreed by Labour leader Johann Lamont and her shadow cabinet, would see the new body carry out unannounced inspections across the health service.

It could also send in troubleshooting teams to improve standards if hospitals or health boards were thought to be failing.

Labour proposes the new body be given powers similar to watchdogs at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, allowing it to carry out criminal investigations into failures of care or allegations of malpractice in the NHS, before reporting its findings to the Crown Office.

In addition it could report impartially on the impact of government policies on the health service, in a role similar to the Office of Budget Responsibility at Westminster, which provides independent data and analysis on the UK economy.

Labour public health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson said: “We need to provide independent scrutiny and take politics out of the process.”

In a piece in The Herald, the Labour MSP claimed that currently “one of the fundamental problems is a regulatory regime that is confusing and toothless”.

Dr Simpson said: “Inspection reports highlight the same problem time and again, yet very little changes. We need a truly independent body that will sound the alarm on failures and take tough, decisive action.”

He argued: “We could improve our systems by merging Healthcare Improvement Scotland and the Care Inspectorate and handing them real power.

“This new body, Care Improvement Scotland, must be independent of government, connect to staff and families, speak truth to power and be given the ability to enforce change by having access to measures like troubleshooting change teams to turn services around.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland already has a robust scrutiny regime in place across NHS Scotland and the care sector, and we have confidence that this system is continuing to drive improvement.

“Healthcare Improvement Scotland and the Care Inspectorate already work closely together, and carry out announced and unannounced inspections across acute hospitals and community settings. NHS boards take urgent action to improve any issues highlighted through the inspections.

“In addition, a number of improvement programmes are in place, including the Scottish Patient Safety Programme, which is helping to improve the safety of healthcare across Scotland.”