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Highlands Tory MSP ‘alarmed’ at NHS cost cutting

Alarmed: Mary Scanlon, Scottish Tory List MSP for the Highlands and Islands. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Alarmed: Mary Scanlon, Scottish Tory List MSP for the Highlands and Islands. Picture: Ian Georgeson

  • by ALISTAIR MUNRO
 

A CONSERVATIVE MSP is “alarmed” further cost-cutting measures planned by an NHS board facing a £10 million overspend will diminish health care in the Highlands.

Mary Scanlon, a Tory List MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: “After five years of efficiency savings, it beggars belief what can be cut next.”

NHS Highland’s director of finance Nick Kenton has warned the organisation faces a forecasted overspend of £9.8 million.

He admitted the situation was giving him “some cause for concern”.

In a report to NHS Highland’s board, which will meet on 13 August, Mr Kenton points out that his plan to break even depends on the delivery of savings targets and a range of management actions.

The unit with the biggest forecast overspend – £7.7 million – is Raigmore Hospital.

The director will tell the board that Raigmore’s senior management team is seeking to identify measures to reduce costs.

Work will also be required to improve the forecast within adult social care, where there is a current reported overspend forecast of £3.7 million.

His report to board members states that NHS Highland, which has a £708 million annual budget, should break even by the end of the financial year if it delivers on savings targets.

Mr Kenton, who said the figure was in line with what had happened in previous years, will report to members on efforts to reduce costs.

But the cost-cutting has been condemned by Mrs Scanlon, former health spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives.

She said: “For the past five years NHS Highland has successfully achieved financial savings in order to retain the services we have in the Highlands.

“But to expect another £10 million this year, I think, is a step too far. Everything that can be cut has been, but now there is another £10 million to find.”

She added: “I find this very alarming, particularly given the NHS budget is protected from the cuts faced by local authorities and other parts of the public sector.

“I think it is now time for the board of NHS Highland to talk to the Health Secretary about how the service can be maintained, and how the people of the Highlands can have the same access to health care as elsewhere in Scotland, while also meeting these financial targets.”

Among other matters being raised at the meeting is progress with infection prevention and control.

NHS Highland met all targets for Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia (SAB) and Clostridium difficile (C-diff) in patients aged 65 and over as at March 2013.

However, the board will be told several key challenges remain, including helping prevent and reduce C-diff infections acquired in the 15-64 age group in the community.

Board members will also be updated on proposals for the Highland Quality Approach, NHS Highland’s new management system aimed at providing patient-centred care that eliminates time wastage, reduces harm and manages inconsistences for patients waiting for treatment.

The new approach involves looking at other highly successful health organisations in other countries to improve cancer care, patient flow and collecting information on patients.

New director of quality improvement Linda Kirkland will propose four Quality Improvement Fellowships be created.

Interviews have still be held to recruit the “fellows” from four existing clinicians based throughout the Highlands who will apply to spend one to two days a week working as fellows.

The fellows would lead improvements and play a key role in developing physician/staff agreements stating what doctors can expect of the organisation in which they work, and what the organisation expects of them. Such agreements are commonly used in high-performing healthcare organisations in the United States.

She will also tell the board about an innovative healthcare system in a remote and rural area of the United States.

Southcentral Foundation, which provides healthcare services to 60,000 Alaskan native and American Indian people, has developed the patient-led ‘Nuka System of Care’ to improve health and wellbeing.

She defended money being spent on recruiting “fellows” at a time when NHS Highland is tightening its purse strings.

She added: “We truly believe that by doing this we will be improving quality of care which will free up clinicians’ time.”

The development of a replacement health centre in Tain, challenges in recruiting and retaining staff in remote and rural areas and steps taken to address health inequalities in the Highlands will also be raised at the meeting.

 

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