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INSIDE TRACK: Prognosis looks optimistic for the NHS in Scotland

There has been a lot of good news circulating about the Scottish NHS this week.

More patients rushed to hospital with heart attacks and strokes are surviving than ever before. The latest figures show 93.9% of men are alive 30 days after the chest pain and the frantic phone calls compared to 86.5% a decade ago.

Meanwhile, on the maternity wards, more than 90% of mothers have rated the care they receive before and during childbirth as good or excellent.

The latest conversations I have had with emergency and acute medicine specialists continue to confirm that hospitals are coping much better this winter than last year. One writer on our Letters Pages yesterday told us she was seen by two doctors within 20 minutes of arriving at a Glasgow A&E on a Friday night and was on a ward within three hours, having had tests carried out.

She concluded: "Sometimes there can be a considerable amount of criticism of our medical services in the media, but I am sure that the NHS has many very satisfied patients like me."

She is right, of course. Most of the time, most patients are well, if not very well, looked after.

That should be the case and staff at all levels deserve praise, particularly given rising patient demand and the public spending squeeze.

At the same time the latest findings from the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, which investigates complaints against the health service, have just dropped into my inbox.

There are five reports about healthcare, all of them appearing to relate to elderly patients, and they do make sad reading.

In one, the patient fell as she walked unaided back from the commode to her hospital bed, fractured her hip and died a few days later. The ombudsman's summary says that "staff were informed by another patient that she had fallen". Their investigation, which involved nursing experts, concludes that a proper assessment of the patient was not conducted when she was admitted to hospital.

This issue, of elderly patients not being fully assessed when they are taken on to a ward, keeps cropping up.

It is my job to notice that, to talk to people who work in the NHS and represent their staff about it, to ask why it seems to be a problem and if something could be done to improve the situation, to get it discussed on our pages if my editors agree.

This brings me to another piece of good news The Herald revealed this week.

The body that inspects cleanliness and elderly care in Scottish hospitals, Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), is proposing to start checking staffing levels along with other safety issues when visiting wards. Given the repeated concern raised about the pressure on nurses and doctors, this seems to me to be a welcome move.

The Herald is campaigning for a review of NHS and social care capacity, covering staffing, in order to plan what these services need to cope well with the growing frail elderly population.

This HIS plan strikes me as one of a number of steps in the right direction which are being taken.

No wonder I am in a good mood.

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