NHS Highland’s financial bail-outs, locum spend and missed mental health targets have been highlighted by MSPs examining health board “failings”.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has been alerted to concerns identified by members of Holyrood’s health committee who have been scrutinising the performance of Scotland’s health boards.
NHS Highland was one of three boards whose financial status was highlighted by MSPs with the committee noting it had required a Scottish Government bail-out of £18 million in 2018/19.
The board’s finances were mentioned in a letter sent by the committee which urged Ms Freeman to improve the Scottish Government’s monitoring of NHS performance after the MSPs collated “common themes and failings” across health boards.
The letter noted that NHS Highland’s finances had been escalated to stage four, the second highest level risk identified by the Scottish Government.
Stage four is defined as being “significant risks to delivery, quality and financial performance or safety; senior level external support required”.
The letter also noted that chief executive Iain Stewart had identified locum spend, social care and drugs as the board’s main overspending areas.
NHS Highland spent £12.8m in 2018/19, an increase of 8.3% on the previous year and the third highest spend in the country.
The MSPs also drew attention to the board’s failure to meet targets for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) treatment targets. In 2018/2019, 81.4% of children and adolescents in NHS Highland began treatment within 18 weeks against a target of 90%.
Highlands Tory MSP Donald Cameron said: “This report confirms that our health service continues to suffer because it has been neglected by Nicola Sturgeon and her SNP government.
“We urgently need to see a plan which puts NHS Highland back on the road to financial good health, otherwise we will see a deterioration in the quality of healthcare provided to residents across our region.
Health committee convener Lewis Macdonald said: “We want to see better monitoring of NHS board performance, identifying issues early and addressing those issues.”
A NHS Highland spokeswoman acknowledged the “very significant challenge” faced to deliver a balance budget.
“We have, to date, identified savings totalling £22.8m against a target of £28m and we remain hopeful of making our target by year-end,” she said.
Plans were in place to mitigate with new unplanned cost pressures year to date of £3.6m.