The chairman of troubled NHS Highland resigned yesterday – and was swiftly followed out the door by the board’s medical director.
David Alston and Dr Rod Harvey left their post weeks before the publication of John Sturrock QC’s review of bullying allegations currently beleaguering the board.
A group of whistle-blowing doctors prompted the report last year after alleging that a culture of bullying had been systemic in NHS Highland for more than ten years.
The Sturrock report is currently with Health Secretary Jeane Freeman and due for public release at the end of March.
David Alston, who has chaired the health board since 2016 and had another year to run, stepped down with immediate effect.
His decision was announced by health secretary Jeane Freeman shortly before Mr Alston issued his own statement.
During the course of the afternoon, the board’s medical director, Dr Rod Harvey, said he would be returning to clinical practice before retiring at the end of August.
New leadership will now be required at the health board, which has faced significant financial and staffing challenges.
It faces an overspend this year of £18 million, with its situation described as ‘extremely challenging’.
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Insiders say other senior board members may also step down in the coming days as the Scottish Government seeks to pre-empt potentially embarrassing revelations in the Sturrock report and bring a new broom to an organisation also struggling with financial overspends and governance issues.
Mr Alston, a director on the health board since 2003, faced calls to resign last year when it emerged that an independent report had recommended the board use mentors, coaches, mediation and formal training courses to improve how they govern.
In his statement yesterday, Mr Alston said he believed it was time for a new chair as the board ‘embarks upon a new programme of service transformation’.
He said: “I believe a new chair at this time will provide a fresh approach and enable the service to look forward with confidence.”
Dr Harvey, meanwhile, said that after nearly five years in the post, and at the age of 61, it was ‘time to take stock’.
He said: “I am very grateful that NHS Highland has agreed to allow me to spend time on enhancing my clinical skills during my period of notice.”
The health secretary Jeane Freeman has appointed Professor Boyd Robertson as the interim chairman of NHS Highland.
Mr Robertson, originally from North Uist, retired last year as principal of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig College, and has extensive experience in Scotland’s public life, including senior leadership roles.
He will work alongside chief executive Iain Stewart, originally from Lewis, who took up his position at the end of January after the departure of Elaine Mead.
Ms Freeman said “It is vital that NHS Highland moves forward at pace addressing the known priority areas of improvement required including finance and service delivery and embracing fully the work needed from John Sturrock QC’s review when finalised.”
Scottish Labour’s shadow health minister David Stewart said Mr Robertson’s appointment heralded “a new chapter for NHS Highland, which has not had its troubles to seek in the past few years”.
MSP Edward Mountain said: “I see this as a real opportunity to build on what we do best in our Highland health service and also to strengthen those areas which are clearly in need of improvement.”
And Kate Forbes MSP added: “I hope that new leadership at the top signifies a change of direction in engaging with, listening to and delivering for the communities I represent.”