It is hard to comprehend the suffering of Lamara Bell as she lay seriously hurt in a crashed car for three days before she was taken to hospital, only to die from her injuries. By the time police arrived, her boyfriend John Yuill, who had been driving, was dead.
A call reporting a car at the bottom of an M9 embankment had been made to the emergency services, but it was not transferred to the police’s computer system and action was only taken after a second call. It is believed the 25-year-old mother-of-two would have survived if she had been taken to hospital earlier.
After admitting it failed to provide a call-handling system that was not susceptible to such human errors, Police Scotland was fined £100,000. An earlier review as a result of the case led to a total of 38 recommendations for improvement.
‘Human error’ is something all of us are familiar with, but systems as important as the emergency services must be designed with that in mind.
This raises a wider point about good governance and the need for scrutiny of public institutions, not just by the media and campaign groups, but by the public itself.
In a country where constitutional politics is such a decisive factor in how people vote, there is a risk that the focus on the delivery of services is diminished to dangerous levels. That politicians, of whatever party, ‘take their eye off the ball’ – to paraphrase Nicola Sturgeon’s honest but shocking admission about her government’s efforts to prevent drug deaths – and overlook issues of vital importance.
We should remember that the fate of an individual citizen could be the fate of any one of us.
It is a difficult thing to think of ourselves being in the same situation as Lamara Bell. But doing so would surely mean we would demand our politicians, unionist or nationalist, spend less time on competing visions of the future and more on the duller, more detailed business of ensuring public services are run properly.