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Ministers told lessons must be learned from ‘systemic failures’ at scandal-hit NHS Tayside

Jenny Marra.
Jenny Marra.

Ministers and health bosses must learn from a “systemic failure of governance” that led to a series of crises at NHS Tayside, a Holyrood committee has warned.

The Public Audit Committee said it was “critical” the health board strengthens its management arrangements to ensure “regular and robust” scrutiny of its finances.

NHS Tayside was hit by a number of financial scandals in 2018, when then health secretary Shona Robison was forced to intervene after it emerged the health board had plundered its own charity cash to pay for IT systems.

A review by accountants at Grant Thornton found bosses had “misrepresented” NHS Tayside’s financial situation since 2012 by holding money allocated for eHealth initiatives against general expenditure.

Members of the Public Audit Committee have predicted the cash-strapped health board, which has already been bailed out with more than £50 million of Government cash, will continue to require a “high level” of support from ministers.

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The committee warned the performances of NHS Tayside and other health boards need to be “significantly improved” so the public and Parliament can be reassured patients are receiving the care they need.

Convener Jenny Marra said: “Whilst the past can’t be changed, the Scottish Government must learn lessons to ensure that these kinds of issues don’t emerge again.

“Challenges at NHS Tayside remain and NHS leaders should work to meet all of the 20 national targets. If local leaders work to improve services and get their finances under control, the public’s confidence will increase.”

MSPs accepted the NHS is “under significant pressure as a consequence of a tight financial environment, increasing demand for services, difficulties in recruiting staff and rising public expectations”.

However, they noted NHS Tayside’s financial position had been unsustainable as far back as 2012-13 and called on bosses to display “strong and consistent leadership”.

Liam Kerr, deputy convener of the Public Audit Committee, said: “The Scottish Government has had to step in repeatedly to manage problems at NHS Tayside. We cannot allow this to happen again, hence the enhanced level of scrutiny going forward.

“During all this, frontline staff are toiling to meet the very difficult demands of local healthcare. For them, and for patients, the governance of the board has to be water-tight from now on.”

NHS Tayside chairman John Brown insisted the board had “learned the lessons from the issues highlighted” and said he was “confident the new leadership team is making significant progress in terms of returning NHS Tayside to financial stability”.

“We have already had a high level of external scrutiny of our plans in 2019 with the independent Assurance and Advisory Group, appointed by the Scottish Government, reporting earlier this year,” he said.

“The group’s report stated that progress had been made in NHS Tayside to stabilise the finances, improve the governance, strengthen the leadership and culture, and develop credible plans that will deliver performance improvement and financial sustainability.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Over the last two years the Scottish Government and NHS Tayside have responded to the issues summarised in this report, and the Board continues to make good progress in moving back towards financial sustainability.”

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