Health chiefs in the north have said there is “no room for complacency” despite a much improved financial report compared with last year.
Finance director Nick Kenton told the health board yesterday that he is confident they will break even, despite a £2million overspend in the first three months of the financial year.
He said that if the overspend continues unchecked it is forecast to reach around £5million by the end of the year.
However, Mr Kenton said that at the same point last year, his department was forecasting an overspend of £15.6million, which was eventually brought back to breaking even.
Among the main cost pressures was a £3.3million bill for medical locum cover and a forecast overspend of £5.1million on medical and dental staff.
Mr Kenton said: “I am content to forecast that we will break even.
“Clearly though we must continue to monitor things closely.”
He added: “Overall we are in a better place than we were last year but clearly there is no room for complacency.”
Board members Elaine Wilkinson and Myra Duncan both called for contingency plans to be drawn up in case the finance gaps failed to close.
Mrs Wilkinson said: “We should have plans in place for when we have to turn off the tap to certain things.”
NHS Highland chief executive Elaine Mead said: “Of course we have a plan B, we always do have .”
The board also agreed plans to tighten up its decision making procedures following a scathing Scottish Parliament report into its financial management.
The parliament’s Public Audit Committee gave its damning verdict on the north health board earlier this year after concerns about the need for a Scottish Government bailout in 2013/14.
Increased overspending, particularly at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, meant that NHS Highland had to ask for a £2.5million loan to help balance the budget.
Senior executives twice appeared before the Public Audit Committee to answer questions about the debacle.
The board is now paying the loan back at a rate of £500,000 a year, and now the board have approved a number of changes to their scheme of delegation.
They will add a new clause stating that the board must approve any approach for brokerage before the chief executive and finance director apply to the Scottish Government.
And the two senior executives must report back to the board as soon as possible with the government’s response.
Board members have also had extra training on financial awareness in order to improve scrutiny in future.