Plea for Highland health bosses to seek emergency government funding to help with £100million black hole

NHS Highland chairman David Alston.

Campaigners have urged Highland health chiefs to seek emergency Scottish Government funding to help with a £100million black hole.

The plea followed a meeting yesterday in Inverness at which the region’s director of public health Hugo van Woerden told board colleagues they “should not underestimate the magnitude” of the financial challenge ahead.

However, board chairman David Alston responded saying its role was to state facts and not get caught up in politics.

The region’s health budget faces a £47million cut in 2017-18 alone despite the Scottish Government’s insistence that funding has increased. A £47million reduction is 7% of the board’s budget.

NHS Highland has cited spiralling costs, an ageing population, longstanding recruitment problems and increasing pressure on staff for the need to change the way it delivers services.

Initiatives “relating back to people and care” have been identified including “new models of care” and “realistic medicine.”

Bill Fernie, who heads the pressure group Caithness Health Action Team opposed to the downgrading of maternity services in the far north, sat in on the discussion.

Speaking afterwards, he said: “They’re working on a plan which will mean big reductions but I didn’t hear anyone saying they should go back to Scottish Government and argue the case for more money.”

NHS Highland claims it is currently short-changed to the tune of £8.5million (1.53%) under the Scottish Government funding formula, the NHS Scotland Resource Allocation Committee.

Mr Alston said: “We don’t have our share. It would be great to have it, although it wouldn’t solve all our problems. We’d still need to be doing things that we’re doing.”

Responding to the call for action, he said: “Some of this is a political argument. It’s not for us, in our role as health board members. Our role is to put the facts on the table.”

He denied that the millions of pounds being clawed back were “cuts” or even “savings” and insisted that the quality of service would be maintained.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Funding for NHS Highland is increasing again in 2017-18 to a new record high level – having increased by 5% to £577.5million this year and by 4.7% last year.”