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NHS Tayside crisis: Leadership set-up is ‘high risk’

Malcolm Wright
Malcolm Wright

Fears have been raised that the new boss of Tayside’s beleaguered health board is juggling too many senior roles.

Malcolm Wright was parachuted in this month as chief executive of the board to shore up its finances in the wake of dodgy accounting revelations.

He is already the chief executive at Grampian and heads up the NHS for the north of Scotland, prompting concern from the public spending watchdog and a former health secretary that he does not have the time to turn Tayside around.

Questions were also asked in the Holyrood committee about his predecessor Lesley McLay, who has been replaced but is still understood to drawing a salary as an employee on sick leave.

Former health secretary Alex Neil, a member of the public audit committee, said he has the “highest regard” for Mr Wright.

But he added: “How on earth is he going to have any time to deal with the problems at Tayside when he is holding down three very important jobs simultaneously?”

He described the leadership arrangements at NHS Tayside as “very high risk”.

»» Click here for more on NHS Tayside

Auditor General Caroline Gardner replied: “I share your regard for Malcolm Wright and I share your concerns about the stretch this is placing on any individual however competent and experienced.”

She said she expected the Scottish Government to clear up the long-term leadership at Tayside quickly.

In a letter to the committee, Paul Gray, the chief executive of NHS Scotland, said Mr Wright will be handing the oversight of day-to-day operations at Grampian to his deputy.

Referring to Ms McLay and comparing the situation with the Scottish Police Authority, Mr Neil said: “Here yet again we have a chief executive who has been told to stand down and it would appear then goes sick and getting presumably full salary.

“The issue of payment severance and the rest of it also comes up.”

Jenny Marra, the committee convener, asked the Auditor General if she thought the outgoing chief executive should receive a severance payment.

Ms Gardner replied: “I think it would be difficult to justify a severance payment in the terms I think you are intending.”

NHS Tayside has been rocked by two accounting scandals in recent weeks on the back of five years of failing to balance the books without government intervention.

It emerged this month that charity donations were used to cover general spending at NHS Tayside.

In March, it was revealed that digital healthcare funds worth £5.3m had been recycled since 2012, making the board’s finances look better than they really were.

Colin Beattie, the SNP MSP, likened the auditing process for uncovering financial improprieties to a “chocolate fireguard”.

The total brokerage – government bail-out loans – that Tayside has required since 2013/14 is likely to exceed £45 million.

Ms Gardner told the committee that too much energy is being spent by local health chiefs on trying to balance the books, as she suggested boards are given the freedom to run deficits.

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