A former NHS Tayside board member has called for the mass resignation of health chiefs in the region as he warned “people will die” as a result of chronically mismanaged breast cancer services.
Dr Crawford Reid, a retired consultant anaesthetist, urged current board members to “have a long hard look at themselves” after we revealed how Tayside will be reduced to a single breast consultant when another senior doctor leaves in January.
However, NHS Tayside fired back at Dr Reid, who is also a Perth and Kinross councillor, insisting there is no evidence to support his claims and warning they could cause “unnecessary concern for our patients and their families”.
The health board has struggled to recruit replacements for its oncology department following an exodus of staff after bosses were accused of throwing clinicians “under the bus” in the midst of a chemotherapy dosing scandal.
GMC probe raises questions
A probe by the General Medical Council, revealed this week, found it could not be proven whether the reduced dose had any negative effect.
It also said it would not be normal practice to notify patients of the change when doctors believe this is the best possible treatment.
Both of these findings contradict Scottish Government-commissioned reviews that were accepted in full by the health board at the time.
Services are currently being supported by NHS Grampian after NHS Tayside chief executive Grant Archibald warned in February that he could not guarantee the long-term future of the service following the departures.
The health board is recruiting for a locum consultant on a 12-month contract after struggling to attract permanent applicants amid a nationwide shortage.
Shock claim: ‘People will die’
Dr Reid warned that “people will die in the future because of NHS Tayside – not because of the chemotherapy received but because of the ongoing lack of staff”, adding that this could include patients impacted by clinicians being asked to cover from other areas.
“This is a region which has a fantastic medical school allowing attachments to the University in a variety of disciplines, with opportunities for a huge range of research activities,” he said.
“Some of – the majority – of the clinical staff are as good as you will find anywhere in the UK, yet the organisation is failing in just about every aspect of its administration.
“As a Dundee graduate, I am so saddened by the demise of Tayside as a provider of high-quality clinical care. As a resident of Tayside, I am worried for my future.”
Speaking about the current management team, Dr Reid likened the “necessary” response to when football fans chant “sack the board”, adding that a mass resignation at NHS Tayside “would not be inappropriate”.
Why is NHS Tayside recruiting for a temporary consultant?
He also raised concerns over the quality of candidate that would be attracted to a temporary position in a speciality where there is already a shortage of applicants.
Dr Reid said: “Who is going to go to a department that has been decimated by Scottish Government interference and a lack of support from NHS Tayside?
“Who in their right minds would take that on when there are so many jobs around at bigger and now more prestigious centres?”
NHS Tayside confirmed the process of recruiting for a permanent clinical oncologist is ongoing and the board is looking at all opportunities, both permanent and locum.
‘No detriment to any patient in Tayside’
Dr Pamela Johnston, the health board’s operational medical director, said allegations like Dr Reid’s “have a negative impact and undermine our staff, who are working extremely hard to treat patients and deliver the service”.
She said: “All patients who have a diagnosis of breast cancer are being treated in Tayside and this has always been the case.
“There is no detriment to any patient in Tayside.
“In fact, what can be evidenced is that Tayside continues to be one of the best performing boards for achieving cancer targets, which it does on a consistent basis.”
Dr Johnston said people should be reassured that “all patients in Tayside who are referred to us with an urgent suspicion of breast cancer are beginning their treatment within the national targets of 31 and 62 days, which is 95%.”
She added: “We can also reassure the public that it remains a priority for the board that our clinical teams are supported to continue to deliver a breast oncology service for patients in Tayside.”
Shocking and appalling
Scottish Conservative health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, an NHS GP, said it is “shocking and appalling” that a health board the size of NHS Tayside will be left with just one breast cancer consultant come January.
“The chronic shortage of senior staff was flagged up long ago – and as far back as February Nicola Sturgeon vowed to get a grip of it,” he said.
“Instead, the Scottish Government’s inaction has actually led to this catastrophic crisis in breast cancer care worsening.
“This is literally a matter of life and death for people in Tayside, so the first minister and health secretary must act now to give the health board the resources needed to provide this crucial service.”