An NHS watchdog has apologised for "shortcomings" in its investigation into patient safety at one of Scotland's busiest A&E departments.

Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) faced a backlash from medics at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow after it closed its probe without giving doctors an opportunity to share their concerns or evidence directly with officials.

In May last year, 29 consultants in emergency medicine at QEUH wrote to HIS to warn that patient safety in A&E was being "seriously compromised" by issues such as treatment delays, "inadequate" staffing levels, and patients being left unassessed in unsuitable waiting areas.


They claimed this has resulted in "preventable patient harm and sub-standard levels of basic patient care".

They offered 18 months' worth of evidence demonstrating overcrowding and staff shortages.

However, HIS did not ask for this evidence and investigators failed to meet with any of the 29 doctors who had raised concerns - equivalent to almost all the consultants in the emergency department.

The Herald: A&E departments have been under increasing pressure since mid-2021A&E departments have been under increasing pressure since mid-2021 (Image: PA)

In August last year, HIS wrote to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde chief executive, Jane Grant, to tell the board that it was closing its investigation into the consultants' complaint as it was satisfied there was "awareness and oversight of the issues and of the performance of the emergency department".

The letter referenced a meeting between HIS officials and Morag Gardner, the board's deputy nurse director, and Scott Davidson, deputy medical director.

Sources told the BBC they were angry that the investigation "seems to have started and ended with HIS asking hospital managers if everything was okay and being assured it was".

The BBC quoted one of the consultants who had signed the original letter saying: "We offered to share evidence of patient harm.

"We were shocked that they ignored this and didn't engage with us as the consultant group raising concerns."

After obtaining a copy of the letter sent to Ms Grant, the consultants submitted a formal complaint to HIS in January for failing to meet with them or review any of the "extensive documentary evidence" they offered to provide.

The Herald: Busy A&E departments have led to ambulances 'stacking' outside unable to complete patient handoverBusy A&E departments have led to ambulances 'stacking' outside unable to complete patient handover (Image: PA)

HIS has now accepted that its investigation fell short.

Robbie Pearson, HIS chief executive, has written to the consultants, stating: "I would like to offer my sincere, unreserved apology for our shortcomings in this matter and the clear distress they caused you all.

"May I also offer an assurance that HIS will learn lessons and implement changes to published process and their application as a direct result of your complaint".

Evidence of patient safety concerns offered by the consultants has now been shared with HIS.

It is being reviewed and could lead to a new review being launched into patient safety in the QEUH's emergency department.

In January - the most recent month for which full data is available - a record 4,783 people spent over four hours in the emergency department at the QEUH, including 1,958 who were there for over eight hours and 729 for more than 12 hours. 

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said the revelations "show that the culture of secrecy at the QEUH persists and that the watchdog has failed to do its duty by the people of Scotland".

She added: “Instead of putting patients first by properly investigating the concerns of clinicians over dangerous staff shortages, HIS by-passed consultants to give top-brass at the hospital a clean bill of health."

The Herald: The ED at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow experienced its worst ever waiting times in January this yearThe ED at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow experienced its worst ever waiting times in January this year (Image: PHS)

A HIS spokesman said: "Following our initial response outlining our findings, we received a complaint from the consultants about their experience of the process.

"Our handling of the process did not include adequate engagement with the clinicians raising the concern.

"We have formally acknowledged this, apologised for shortcomings and committed to learn lessons."

A spokesman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "We are committed to improving the patient experience at the QEUH and have been working with consultants within the Emergency Department (ED) alongside HIS following concerns raised around staffing and capacity levels.

"The ED team are involved in hospital-wide plans to support the department by relieving pressures on the front door and improving overall patient safety which remains our top priority."