NHS Lothian chief says service ‘unsustainable’

Brian Houston. Picture: Nigel Darling
Brian Houston. Picture: Nigel Darling
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LOTHIAN’S newest health boss has warned that the NHS must drive through radical changes or risk “falling over” within five years.

Brian Houston, who was appointed as chairman of NHS Lothian in April, said a “radically different model” of healthcare delivery would have to be adopted across Scottish society.

He described the current system as “not sustainable” in the long term, given an anticipated explosion in the population, particularly among the elderly, and that the public’s expectations and perception of the NHS may have to change.

In his first interview as health board chairman, he said NHS Lothian could not afford to take its “eye off the ball” of fixing short-term performance issues.

But he added: “If we don’t now start worrying about how we start at least to make some of these major paradigm shifts in the whole environment that we operate in we’ll wake up in five years’ time and find that it’s all passed us by and the thing’s falling over.

“It’s a global situation. I can’t think of another industry that has a greater complexity and potentially a greater urgency in terms of the time factor to change it.”

Health and social care partnerships have been set up as a way of ensuring health boards and community services work more closely together, but Mr Houston said an even wider integration would have to follow and that “almost the entirety of society” would have to be mobilised.

His comments were welcomed by the Scotland Patients Association. The group’s director, former consultant and MSP Dr Jean Turner, said: “He is right in what he’s saying. If we don’t get this right the NHS will be like an A-listed building that will crumble around us.

“These are difficult times, but I think we can solve it. It’s not going to be easy and we wish Mr Houston well.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jackie Baillie, said that Mr Houston’s focus should remain on short-term issues, given uncertainty over the operation of the region’s A&E departments and the future of city hospitals.

She added: “While it is right to encourage people to take better care of themselves and live healthier lives, the truth is that the problems experienced in NHS Lothian are urgent and immediate. Frankly, the NHS in Lothian is under huge strain now and Mr Houston would do well to focus on this as a matter of urgency.”

CV: Brian Houston - Chair to Lothian NHS Board

Age: 64

Born: Leith

Address: Near Darvel, East Ayrshire

Education: Attended Eastwood School, south Glasgow. Qualified as an accountant at 21.

Employment history: After leaving school at 16, I went to work in a steel works in Motherwell. I worked as a cost clerk, bricklayer and various other things around the steel works of the west of Scotland. After qualifying as an accountant I worked for ten years in financial jobs across Scotland. I then acted as MD of small distribution companies and joined a managing consulting firm, PA Consulting Group. I stayed for 22 years, working in multi-national companies in just about every industrial sector. I mainly worked in strategy development and planning. For the last 10 years I was chairman and chief executive of European operations. I “retired” at 51 and went into a series of activities, becoming non-exec director and chairman of mainly manufacturing companies, I acted as an interim MD and chief executive of three companies involved in offshore oil business. I served on the board of Visit Scotland for eight years from 2001-2009. I am still a non-executive director of Hibernian FC.

marital status: I’m married for the second time, to Caroline. We’ve been married for 13 years and together for about 25 years. I have four kids from my first marriage, and three grandchildren.

Hobbies and interests: I enjoy hillwalking and a bit of climbing. I run and I do a lot of cycle touring. My musical hero is Jerry Lee Lewis. My favourite film is Paris Texas. My eldest daughter lives on the Thai-Burma border and has done for 25 years. She works with Burmese refugees and helps to run a major medical centre clinic specifically for Burmese refugees both on the border and inside the jungles of Eastern Burma. With my two brothers, we run a charitable trust, the KAREN refugee camps trust, based here in Scotland to raise funds for that clinic. I probably spend half a day to a day a week working on stuff to do with that. I have two Scots-Burmese grandchildren and I go out there at least once if not a couple of times a year.