Scotland’s Health Secretary is to meet an NHS watchdog, which apologised to consultants over its handling of patient safety concerns, to find out what went wrong.

Neil Gray said it is of “critical importance” that medical professionals are able to raise such concerns, and the way the case was handled was “not acceptable”.

It emerged on Monday that Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) had apologised to A&E consultants at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) for its “shortcomings” in investigating 18 months of evidence about overcrowding and staff shortages which medics said “seriously compromised” the safety of patients.

The worries were first flagged by 29 consultants in May 2023 but the watchdog did not ask to see the evidence or meet any of the doctors.

Instead, it launched an investigation and spoke to senior executives at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) before closing it in August last year.

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However, complaints in January this year that the doctors were not given the opportunity to discuss or present their evidence were upheld.

Scotland’s Health Secretary Neil Gray was asked about the situation in an interview on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Tuesday and said it was “obviously not acceptable”.

He said: “I’m going to be meeting with Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) today in order to understand exactly what has happened in this case.

“Obviously anyone raising patient safety concerns must be taken seriously and we must ensure that there are robust processes in place so that concerns like this can be raised and can be investigated and improvements put in place.”

Asked who consultants should speak to if they have an issue, he said: “Healthcare Improvement Scotland should be there in order to listen and, to be fair, they did contact NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, they did carry out an investigation based on what they were provided.

“What they have apologised for is they have not then gone back to the consultants to consider further those concerns and the response from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde which is what they’ve apologised for.

“I’m going to be meeting with HIS today to find out exactly what has happened, why they’ve had to apologise and how we can ensure this situation doesn’t happen again because clearly it is of critical importance that medical professionals are able to raise concerns about patient safety and be taken seriously and their concerns acted upon.”

A letter, seen by BBC Scotland, from HIS chief executive Robbie Pearson, said: “I would like to offer my sincere, unreserved apology for our shortcomings in this matter and the clear distress they caused you all.”

He also offered an “assurance” that HIS will learn lessons as a result of the complaint.

The watchdog has now been presented with the evidence from consultants.

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A spokesman for HIS said it first received patient safety concerns from consultants in May 2023.

It said: “Following our initial response outlining our findings, we received a complaint from the consultants about their experience of the process. We met with the consultants and agreed with aspects of their complaint and instigated action to address the issues that were raised.

“We take the findings of the complaint very seriously and are committed to ensuring that our processes for handling concerns about patient safety are robust.

“We recently received additional information from the consultants about their patient safety concerns, and this information is currently being considered.

“Meeting again with the consultants will be part of our process for considering these concerns.”

Asked if it was the case that doctors in Scotland can expect complaints to be thoroughly investigated, Dr Hugh Pearson, the deputy chairman of BMA Scotland, told BBC Radio Scotland: “It doesn’t seem like it is.

“In this case, you’ve got 29 consultants, which I think is pretty much everyone who worked at that hospital at that level in A&E raising concerns about direct patient harm caused by overcrowding and staff shortages and not being listened to by hospital management.

“I think the sad reality is there are doctors across this country who will recognise this.”

An NHSGGC spokesman 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.”