The north’s troubled health board is pleading with ex-patients to return crutches and walking frames as it battles a growing cash crisis.
NHS Highland is urging anyone who has been loaned medical equipment to give it back – so it can save money.
The appeal was made yesterday as new details of the board’s fragile financial position emerged.
It is facing an estimated overspend of £15.6million by the end of April next year.
And the region’s flagship hospital, Raigmore in Inverness, accounts for £10.6million of the huge deficit.
NHS Highland finance director Nick Kenton said that the figures gave “significant cause for concern”.
The situation is particularly alarming because the predicted gap is nearly £6million more than at the same time last year.
Now the board is focussed on turning the situation around in the next nine months.
Among the factors contributing to the massive budget problems are the cost of locums and schemes to meet waiting times standards.
There is also extra pressure from a savings targets of £22.4million.
The board had to borrow £2.5million to help it break even in April, forcing it to tighten its belt further to make the repayments, which will amount to £500,000 this year
Last night, local politicians said they were alarmed by the situation.
Councillor Margaret Davidson said: “It is extremely concerning.
“I understand that the majority of the overspend is in Raigmore. Strenuous efforts have been made there to bring the budget into line.
“But it will be impossible to bridge that gap in the course of a year.”
Mrs Davidson added: “I am really concerned at the pressure on the community services to make savings and produce an underspend.
“All of this is because NHS Highland has not yet managed to shift the balance of care from acute services into the community.”
And north Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon said: “The past few years have been very challenging for NHS Highland and they have driven forward efficiencies and significant cutbacks and this cannot continue.
“We also have to provide the health service that is needed and required.
“Raigmore Hospital needs investment rather than cutbacks.
“I think this is a very worrying situation.”
NHS Highland said a major plan had been put in place for Raigmore, with the aim of reducing the deficit over the next three years.
A number of initiatives will start there next month, including changes to theatre scheduling and a move to treat patients without an overnight hospital stay.
Apparatus such as walking frames, wheelchairs, crutches and raised toilet seats, are frequently given to people leaving hospital.
But some items are not returned when they are no longer needed – and that’s costing NHS Highland money.
A pair of crutches costs upwards of around £20 and a walking frame from £30.
In a report to the board, Mr Kenton said: “Month three is still relatively early in the financial year, however, a £15.6million forecast overspend does give significant cause of concern, particularly when compared to previous years.”