Angry NHS Highland board members have expressed “outrage” at criticism that followed a scathing Audit Scotland report on budget problems at the authority.
Chief executive Elaine Mead also insisted yesterday she was “absolutely 100% confident” of breaking even by the end of the financial year – despite an overspend currently projected at £8.2million.
The comments in defence of the under-fire north health board came yesterday as members gathered for their first meeting since the critical assessment from the public spending watchdog was published.
The Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee was also critical of Ms Mead and the board’s finance manager Nick Kenton, saying they had treated board members “like mushrooms” – keeping them in the dark until the last minute over the need for a £2.5million Scottish Government bailout to balance the books last year.
Both will go before the committee when it visits Inverness on February 2.
Board members yesterday hit back, with chairman Garry Coutts calling the committee’s claims “completely and utterly unfounded”.
He said that he did not know of another public body which put as much of its financial dealings into the public domain.
Councillor David Alston, deputy leader of Highland Council, said: “This board was in no way kept in the dark.
“I’m personally outraged about some of the comments which were made in the wake of the audit report.
“I don’t know if we’re allowed to be corporately outraged but I think we should be.”
Non-executive board member Robin Creelman added: “I felt in no way misled or kept in the dark about the financial position.”
Dr Michael Foxley, former leader of Highland Council, said that critics of the health board had taken the report “seriously out of context”.
Mr Kenton yesterday admitted that they would need to find £1.6million of savings each month to reach their target.
He also warned that a Scottish Government bailout would not be available this year.
Ms Mead said the board’s new “financial recovery plan” would still leave them short by the end of March so more saving had to be made.
Despite the projections, under questioning from board members Ms Mead insisted that they were on target.
She said: “I am absolutely 100% confident at the moment that we will break even by the end of this financial year.”
Cost cutting measures put in place include making use of video conferencing calls in certain circumstances in place of outpatient clinics and reducing the use of locum staff, which could save around £500,000.
Others include trying to reduce the cost of medication and making changes to adult social care.
However, the chief executive admitted that they are unlikely to reach their £500,000 target for the latter – with £200,000 mooted as a more likely saving.
Board member Elaine Wilkinson-Crane urged the management to produce a contingency plan in case they failed to meet their targets.
She said: “We are so close to the wire that if one or two things on the recovery plan is less than we expect then we will be left with a gap.”
Ms Mead said that a group were meeting on the budget weekly – and that a contingency plan was already being considered.
The full board will attend a meeting of the NHS Highland improvement committee in January to discuss the financial position ahead of the parliament hearing in February.