LOTHIAN’S new NHS boss has spoken of the tragic death of his daughter as he answered critics who have questioned whether he is the right man to lead the region’s health service.
Brian Houston, a non-executive director of Hibs, became chairman of NHS Lothian in April and following his appointment, concerns were raised over his lack of expertise in healthcare.
But at his first board meeting, Mr Houston spoke emotionally about his experience of the NHS while his daughter battled a rare form of cancer, and said it was one of reasons he was in the job.
He said: “I was informally chatting about how things were and someone said ‘why are you here?’ I think there are three or four strands as to why I’m in the position.”
He spoke about his ties to the Capital, his belief in the NHS as a “pillar” of society, his background in planning and changing complex organisations before speaking of his daughter, the second of his four children.
Mr Houston said: “Four years ago, my daughter died of a very obscure cancer. She spent several months in the Western General Hospital and went through very serious treatment. She spent several more in St John’s Hospital. I don’t have much professional experience, but I do have personal experience of the NHS.”
The qualified accountant said that while he had been expecting to walk into a “basket case” organisation in NHS Lothian, which has seen its reputation plummet as a result of revelations over bullying and waiting times fiddling, he believed a lot had been done to recover from its “dark night of the soul”.
However, he added that the health board was “only a part of the way down the road” and that he was “staggered” by the changes needed in the NHS in coming years, when the elderly population is set to spiral.
Following Mr Houston’s dramatic speech, Labour MSP and shadow health secretary Jackie Baillie, who previously described Mr Houston’s appointment as “strange”, said she was pleased he understood the scale of the challenge.
She added: “NHS Lothian has trust to rebuild and needs to dramatically improve its services. We need a board which is fully engaged and I hope that the new chair focuses on patients and patient care – something which seems to be lacking from what he sees as the task ahead of him.”
Tory MSP and health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said that following the waiting times and bullying scandals, NHS Lothian had clearly had “problems with certain people in prominent positions” in the past.
He added: “We applaud the idea that those from outside the circle can come in and lend their wider experience of running organisations effectively, rather than just running a health board.
“And goodness knows, NHS Lothian could do with being run effectively.”