THE extension of inspectors' roles in Scottish hospitals to look at staffing levels in key areas such as maternity services and accident and emergency units has been welcomed.

Labour's health spokesman Neil Findlay backed the changes announced by Healthcare Improvement Scotland to step up their scrutiny of health boards and hospitals, saying this gave the lie to claims from Health Secretary Alex Neil that no changes were necessary.

The Herald reported that accident and emergency departments, maternity care and GP services would be subjected to careful checks as part of new comprehensive quality and safety assessments proposed by inspection body Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS).

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The creation of a Healthcare Intelligence Review Group may take feedback from patients and the findings of complaint investigators the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman, and could also use calls made to the recently launched whistleblowers' helpline, when deciding where to send inspection and improvement teams.

Mr Findlay said: "I welcome these proposals which will strengthen the role that Healthcare Improvement Scotland has in scrutinising performance across health boards, particularly those which aren't functioning as well as others.

"The Labour party, along with the RCN, BMA and more have been calling for a review of the NHS to identify areas of pressure and remedy problems. Increasing the range of inspections HIS undertakes goes someway to providing such a review, despite the protestations of Alex Neil, who claimed it wasn't necessary."

He said the development was a welcome sign of the need for more support for the health service, but he said: "We still believe he could go further by making the inspection regime stronger, with the ability to regulate and enforce improvements where persistent failures of duty occur.

"As well as unannounced inspections, it would be able to send in change teams to take over failing public health services and refer criminal failures to the Crown Office."