As Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s programme of hospital inspections begins to focus exclusively on COVID-19, Ann Gow, our Deputy Chief Executive, outlines the role that inspections have in the pandemic response, and the role that the new focused inspections will have in helping to keep people safe.

During the pandemic, inspections by Healthcare Improvement Scotland have had an important role to play in ensuring that staff, residents in care homes and patients stay safe from harm. By providing objectivity to help hospitals and prisons, care homes and services know where to tighten up and improve key practices, we’ve been able to give assurances both publicly and to NHS boards and services that they are doing all they can to respond effectively to the virus.

During the first lockdown of March 2020, we paused our inspection programmes for hospital cleanliness, care of older people, and our inspections of independent clinics, hospitals and hospices. But as we came out of the first lockdown we resumed inspections, making sure that they were focused on ensuring that people were being kept safe from the virus. Our inspections team produced a new methodology in record time that combined the cleanliness and care of older people inspections, and our inspections of independent services focused in on ensuring that where treatments were being provided they were being done safely and following national guidance on COVID-19 to help stem the spread of the virus. As issues arose with the rate of infections in care homes, our inspectors have also joined the Care Inspectorate inspection teams to bring our expertise in the transmission of infections to bear to help keep older people and staff safe.

Being sensitive to pressures in the system

This, of course, has put our inspection teams firmly on the frontline. It has also meant that they have had to be sensitive to the ongoing vital work that care teams have been undertaking to save lives and to bring people through the worst of the virus.

Inspections are very much about conversation as well as observation. We can’t gather the necessary evidence we need without detailed discussions with healthcare professionals about how they undertake their work. Therefore, carrying out inspections during the pandemic – when services can be stretched – is an ongoing delicate balance to ensure that at a time when staff are busier than ever, we ensure that our work helps to enhance and improve the amazing work that NHS boards are doing.

Shifting our focus

In the past few weeks our inspection focus changed again, and in a highly important way. Inspections of acute NHS hospitals will now focus specifically on how hospitals are ensuring that they help prevent the spread of the virus. We’ve used the current HAI standards produced by our organisation, alongside national COVID-19 guidance, to create a focused methodology that will help staff to make improvements in key areas.

Moreover, hospital staff don’t have to wait to see the final report to know what to improve; they get feedback there and then, so that they can immediately begin to put changes in place. It gives NHS boards the assurance that they are doing the right thing, as well as giving them the information they need to make vital improvements to prevent the spread. In addition, the final reports are published so that the general public have access to this information also.

Our organisation cannot thank our inspectors and our inspection teams enough for the crucial work they are undertaking on the frontline as part of Scotland’s national response. We’re also indebted to NHS boards and services for their support and engagement which allows us to help them to improve.

Ann Gow is Deputy Chief Executive of Healthcare Improvement Scotland and Director of Nursing, Midwifery& Allied Health Professionals

More information

Visit the Healthcare Improvement Scotland website to read the first COVID-19 focused inspection report.