Council chief told to take leave amid overspend

Peter Gabbitas
Peter Gabbitas
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A SENIOR council official charged with integrating health and social care services in the city has agreed to take time off from work amid concern of overspending in his department.

Peter Gabbitas, the council’s director of health and social care, who is believed to earn around £120,000 a year, has gone on annual leave with 
junior officials being appointed on an interim basis to cover.

Mr Gabbitas is understood to have come under increasing pressure after work to bring together NHS and care services ran millions over budget. The move was agreed after talks between council chief executive Sue Bruce and NHS Lothian boss Tim Davison, who jointly oversee Mr Gabbitas’s role.

His absence comes as the council goes through a period of major upheaval ahead of Ms Bruce’s departure from the top job at the council after four years in charge.

She is due to be replaced by Cornwall Council boss Andrew Kerr, who arrives soon with a reputation as a cost-cutter.

The decision means that half of the most senior positions at the council are set to be filled by new or interim staff, following Ms Bruce’s retirement and the departure of services for communities director Mark Turley in July last year.

One council source said they believed Mr Gabbitas would be offered a pay-off to leave his role, adding: “I don’t think Peter will be coming back to the council in any capacity.”

The churn of senior council staff is understood to be a cause of concern among councillors, with the source telling the Evening News: “The esteem of elected representatives towards council officials is pretty low. I’ve never seen it like that.”

In January, councillors were told that the adult social care budget was overspent by 
£5.3 million, with officials struggling to identify savings that could be implemented without harming the standard of care.

Mr Turley quit following the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal, while an investigation has been launched into how complaints over alleged improper behaviour by staff at Castlebrae Community High were handled.

Mr Gabbitas is overseeing a major reorganisation of how health and care services are delivered in the city.

The £500m plan to bring together NHS services and care provision across four local authorities in the region is aimed at saving costs as both local authorities and health boards face having to find massive savings.

Under the new system, NHS Lothian pools its community care resources with the region’s four councils in order to stop patients being shunted between health and social care providers.

The move was sparked by the Scottish Government, which wants to reduce the amount of time people spend in hospital, benefiting the elderly and those with long-term health conditions and disabilities.

The Capital’s elderly residents are estimated to need an additional 5000 hours of home care every year, putting additional strain on already-stretched nursing staff.

Meanwhile, crippling levels of bed blocking caused by a lack of care home places for patients ready to be discharged from hospital has placed a huge strain on the NHS.

Alan Boyter, director of human resources and organisational development at NHS Lothian, said: “We do not comment on matters involving individual members of staff.”