VISITING hours in hospitals should be more flexible so patients can benefit from family support, according to the Scottish Government's new health standards tsar.

Dr Jason Leitch, who has been handed a major role in improving standards in the Scottish NHS, wants to make hospitals more welcoming to friends and relatives visiting loved ones.

He called on hospital staff to look at new ways of ensuring the care needs of each patient are not disregarded in the time- pressured and complex business of dealing with hundreds of different health problems.

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The Harvard-educated surgeon previously worked for the world-leading Institute for Healthcare Improvement in the US. He revealed his frustration with the narrow windows of visiting times. Mr Leitch told The Herald: "It feels restricted if I want to visit my wife or my mum. It does not feel open or free."

He said reforms could include allowing visitors in at times that may suit a particular family, as long as it does not compromise patient safety.

Other changes could include asking people what they need to feel better and, for example, letting them get some fresh air or make small changes to their dinner menu.

Mr Leitch said: "I do not want you to get the impression that compassion is a peripheral element of overall change. I do not think it is fluffy. I think it makes the quality of the service better for patients and families."

Since 2008, Mr Leitch has been leading the Scottish Patient Safety programme, which, using lessons he learned in the US, has significantly reduced deaths following operations and cut hospital infection rates.

The programme introduced the routine use of check lists to ensure all necessary precautions are taken every time a patient is admitted to intensive care or placed on an operating table, maximising their chance of a full recovery.

Mr Leitch will continue to expand the areas of medicine covered by this safety work in his new post, Clinical Director of NHS Scotland, a role that places him beside Sir Harry Burns, who oversees public health as Chief Medical Officer.

He also intends to see if the same disciplined approach can be applied to the caring side of the health service, an area where serious failings have been exposed by inspections of geriatric wards in the last year.

Mr Leitch added: "I want compassion to be as reliable as technical care. That might mean asking patients and families every day what matters to them."

Setting up so-called "care rounds" on wards where staff visit each patient regularly and ask what they need is one way of achieving his aim, he suggests.

Originally a dentist who trained to become an oral surgeon before studying public health at Harvard University, Mr Leitch is also informed by his own experiences of the NHS.

In his blog, he describes the technically excellent care his grandmother received after suffering a stroke and breaking her hip, but adds: "There were days where the personal was lost to the impersonal."

Royal College of Nursing Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said: "Nurses should understand the needs of patients and show compassion and sensitivity."