‘Send rescue teams’ into failing hospitals

A HEALTH service watchdog would have the power to send in troubleshooting “change teams” to run failing hospitals under proposals announced by Scottish Labour.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont. Picture: Neil Hanna

The body would also have the power to pursue prosecutions against health authorities over care failures and the manipulation of statistics.

Labour announced the move yesterday in the wake of the NHS Lothian waiting times scandal that saw wildly inaccurate information manipulated to make it appear that thousands of patients had not waited beyond a 12-week target for treatment.

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Shadow health secretary Jackie Baillie told Labour’s conference in Inverness that the watchdog would be a “scrutiny body with teeth” with powers to refer any wrongdoing to the Crown Office.

The move was announced as Baillie also launched an attack on the SNP government’s record on the health service, claiming “you can’t trust the SNP with the NHS”.

Health secretary Alex Neil was also accused of presiding over missed targets on treatment in accident and emergency wards.

The four-hour target for patients to be seen and treated “has not been met across Scotland at any point since 2009” and was now the “worst since the SNP came to power”, Baillie claimed.

She insisted that the Care Improvement Scotland watchdog would be fully independent of government and would provide patients with a single point of focus for complaints and for improvement.

The Labour MSP also highlighted the failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust in England, where substandard care was said to have contributed to the deaths of up to 1,200 patients.

She said: “After the SNP’s hidden waiting times scandal, their failures in providing the best care and the events at Mid-Staffordshire, the way in which we inspect our health and care providers needs to change.

“Just last year, the scandal of hidden waiting lists was exposed at NHS Lothian by staff who were sick of the dishonest manipulation of waiting times.”

Baillie also pledged that the health watchdog would root out bullying, following reports that NHS staff were afraid to highlight concerns about Scotland’s health services due to fears of losing their jobs.

She said: “We had the Audit Scotland report, which revealed that patients across Scotland were parked on hidden waiting lists, their right to waiting time guarantees suspended, some without limit of time.

“Today I set out the first step on that journey. We will create a new body: Care Improvement Scotland, independent of government. This will reflect health and social care integration and the serious concerns arising from the Mid-Staffs inquiry.

“At the very core of its being will be concern for patients and staff.

“A scrutiny body with teeth that will regulate, inspect, enforce and encourage continuous improvement. A body that will not tolerate a bullying culture used to silence staff who raise concerns about patient safety. A body that will not tolerate fiddling of figures. A body that will speak truth to power.”

Baillie went on to attack the record of health secretary Neil and his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon.

She claimed both ministers had promoted independence at the expense of the NHS and presided over cutbacks to nursing and hospital beds.

She said: “So let’s look at the SNP’s choices when it comes to the NHS: the SNP are cutting 2,000 nurses; it’s the SNP who are slashing the health budget; and it’s the SNP who are neglecting patient care.

“They have chosen to remove 1,500 beds from the NHS. And it’s SNP choices that have led to the Auditor General putting our NHS on an amber warning.

“You cannot keep expecting the NHS to do ever more with fewer resources. And now we have Alex Neil, sent in to clean up Nicola Sturgeon’s mess, whilst she gets diverted to fight for separation.

“These are the choices the SNP are making.”

However, Nationalist MSP John Wilson defended the SNP government’s record on NHS waiting lists and funding for services.

He said: “Jackie Baillie forgets that the SNP took over services with major failings caused by the last Labour-Lib Dem administration.

“The SNP has secured funding for the delivery of NHS services during a difficult financial period, with free prescriptions introduced – a move that has benefitted thousands of individuals.

“SNP ministers have also ensured that more figures about NHS waiting lists are publicly available, unlike the last Labour-Lib Dem administration that failed to make these available.”