The body Healthcare Improvement Scotland is set to receive powers to close hospital wards to new admissions if there are serious concerns about patient safety resulting from insufficient staffing levels or poor infection control.
Ministers have laid regulations in the Scottish parliament that, from 1 April, would allow HIS inspectors to close wards to admissions as a “last resort” to protect patients.
“This will not just be for reasons of cleanliness, but also for other safety reasons such as staffing levels”
If approved, the secondary legislation will take forward a key recommendation from the Vale of Leven Hospital Inquiry report, published by Lord MacLean at the end of 2014.
The injury focused on the occurrence of C. difficile infection at the hospital in West Dumbartonshire from 1 January 2007 onwards.
Scottish health secretary Shona Robison said: “We already have a very robust scrutiny and inspection regime – with nearly 100 inspections carried out each year by Healthcare Improvement Scotland.
Scottish regulator to get powers to close ‘unsafe’ wards
“However, protecting patient safety is of critical importance and that is why we want to go further and give HIS the powers to close hospital wards if they consider it necessary,” she said.
“Let me be clear that this would only ever be used as a last resort and in the majority of cases we would expect HIS to work with health boards to put in place improvements on wards first,” said Ms Robison.
“But on the very rare occasions that inspectors have concerns about the safety of patients on a ward, they should have the powers to take firm and direct action,” she said. “This will not just be for reasons of cleanliness, but also for other safety reasons such as staffing levels.
“The proposed changes to the legislation will strengthen the scrutiny in our hospitals and give patients the confidence and trust in the fact that their care will continue to be among the safest in the world,” she added.
The Scottish government published its formal response to the Vale of Leven inquiry report in July 2015, which made 75 recommendations.
It noted improvements already in place included engagement between the chief nursing officer and executive nurse directors to make sure high quality patient care is provided in an open and transparent way.
The new powers are contained in a Scottish Statutory Instrument, which was laid in parliament on 2 February to amend Section 10D of the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978.
However, the campaign group Action for a Safe and Accountable People’s NHS argued that there was ongoing confusion over healthcare regulation in Scotland, especially the role of HIS.
Roger Livermore, a spokesman for the ASAP group and a former Crown prosecutor for the Health and Safety Executive, told Nursing Times there was a “regulatory vacuum” in Scotland.
He said: “The Scottish government and its ministers often refer to NHS Scotland’s Healthcare Improvement Scotland as a regulator, when its senior management says that it is not. It is an internal quality assurance body that does not apply the legal standards.”
Regarding the new powers for HIS, he said in such circumstances the body should refer prospective ward closure issues to the UK-wide Health and Safety Executive.
“In the absence of a healthcare regulator in Scotland, it [HSE] is the default ‘regulator of last resort’ for them to visit and to issue prohibition notices,” he said.