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NHS refuses to reveal fears about care quality at hospital

SERIOUS concerns about the safety and quality of care at a major hospital that have been discussed at the highest levels of the health service are being kept under wraps.

NHS Scotland is refusing to publish findings from a probe that was launched at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary after a senior clinician highlighted a number of worrying problems to Health Secretary Alex Neil. Minutes of a meeting, which have been released, show the issues raised by the consultant "ranged from performance and staffing levels to the quality of care".

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The same records, from which paragraphs have been blacked out, also reveal concerns were voiced "about the relationships between senior clinical management and clinicians in NHS Grampian". They also say there was "an allegation of particular sub-standard care within Care of the Elderly Wards."

However, Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), the inspection body brought in to investigate the concerns, has refused to release documents which explain their findings.

After the whistleblower spoke to Mr Neil in March this year, HIS was asked to validate the criticisms and more than 30 staff were interviewed over two days.

Since then, NHS Grampian has announced its decision to invite HIS to conduct an independent review.

The Herald asked to see the findings of the validation exercise, including briefing materials, in a Freedom of Information request.

The only document disclosed is the minutes of a meeting involving NHS Scotland chief executive Paul Gray, other top-ranking health officials and NHS Grampian management.

These March 31 notes include a list of issues identified by the validation exercise but significant parts of the text have been blacked out. One exception is the words: "The review team noted that some of the issues identified appeared to be long-standing."

Anxieties about staffing of the accident and emergency department, reported earlier this year, are repeated noting "clear concerns" about the August changeover when experien-ced junior doctors move on and new staff arrive.

The minutes continue: "This was exacerbated by some members of staff who have recently resigned and there was a broad acceptance that a significant risk to service delivery would result if the issues in Accident and Emergency were not effectively addressed."

The document also shows NHS Grampian has strugg-led for two years to meet a legally binding waiting times target and recently had an "urgent review" relating to treatment for a number of cancers.

Scottish Labour health spokesman Neil Findlay said: "The health board should publish details of the problems along with a plan for addressing them."

A spokesman for NHS HIS said the independent review sought by NHS Grampian was ongoing. He added: "We believe that disclosure of certain aspects of key docu-ments would substantially prejudice the review, and inhibit the gathering of further crucial intelligence from staff. Disclosure will also undermine the authority of the final report."

A report on the findings is due to be published in late November.

NHS Grampian said the board had been open about the terms and scope of the review. Information is available on their website.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The rigorous approach of the independent review will fully examine any concerns about the quality of care provided and also advise on how any shortcomings can be rectified."

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