FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon told to intervene in NHS Tayside ‘basket case’

Nicola Sturgeon has faced demands to personally intervene in the deepening financial crisis at NHS Tayside.

Lindsay Bedford stepped down suddenly as Tayside’s finance director after bosses were told on Wednesday of the botched recording of £5.3m worth of funding.

The latest bungle means the health board will not meet its target of posting a £4m deficit for 2017/18 – meaning the size of the Scottish Government bail-out will have to be even larger than feared.

Jenny Marra, the Labour MSP who is chairman of Holyrood’s public audit committee, said Tayside is relying yet again on multi-million pound government loans, known as brokerage.

Speaking at First Minister Questions, Ms Marra said: “We know that the Scottish Government has ordered a swift forensic audit, but how much worse must this financial basket case get before the First Minister herself meets with the board at NHS Tayside to ensure that this mess does not affect patients and staff in Dundee?”

Ms Sturgeon, a former health secretary, said: “The very fact that the Scottish Government provides brokerage to ensure that the financial position in NHS Tayside remains stable is because our over-riding priority is the protection of patient care and services.”

She confirmed that Grant Thornton has launched a public review into the state of the board’s finances, which is expected to report back within a fortnight.

NHS Tayside’s beleaguered finance chief steps down after damning report points to new cash crisis

The First Minister said they will take action on the back of the independent report, adding: “In the meantime, yes we will provide additional brokerage to ensure that Tayside’s financial position remains stable because that is in the over-riding interests of patients.”

The size of this year’s government bail-out will now be even higher than the expected £4m, with health chiefs saying the sum will not be known until the publication of the external review.

Tayside already owes the government £33.2m in outstanding emergency loans, having received a total of £37.5m in brokerage. Repayments have been suspended.

The First Minister’s official spokesman insisted on Thursday there is “no blank-chequing involved” after he was asked whether there is a limit to how much brokerage the government is prepared to offer the board.

“What we are doing is trying to ensure that the health boards puts it in place the financial provisions and processes that ensure that it gets back into a steady position as soon as possible,” the spokesman added.

Troubleshooters led by Sir Lewis Ritchie, who were brought in last year to help Tayside find £175m of savings over five years, has said it will be increasingly difficult to find savings.

The advisory group reported last month that £44.5m of savings must found in 2018/19 to break even.

NHS Tayside has found similar savings over the past two years.

Lesley McLay, chief executive of the NHS Tayside, said on Wednesday that they commissioned an internal review as soon as the issue came to light, which is separate to the independent report.

“NHS Tayside has been the subject of much external scrutiny over the past 12 months and this change to the financial out-turn so late in the financial year is very unexpected,” she added.

“The £5.3m of funds identified which are now the subject of the external review involving NHS Tayside, Scottish Government eHealth and NHS National Services Scotland, mean that we will now require additional brokerage.

“Of course, this is a highly unsatisfactory position for the board and therefore, we have already taken steps to include further savings in our 2018-19 financial plans to account for this.”