LONG-term plans for health services in the Lothians have been thrown into turmoil after it emerged bosses will receive £30 million less funding than they expected.
Under a complex formula used to distribute cash among health boards, NHS Lothian was believed to receive around £50m less than it should have, and the Scottish Government had committed to giving annual budget increases to correct the disparity.
However, census figures showing the region’s population has grown at a slower rate than expected and changes to the NHS Scotland Resource Allocation Committee (NRAC) formula mean the health board is now to receive just £17.5m extra – in a single payment next year.
News of the £32.5m shortfall, which senior figures have admitted has come out of the blue, has been met with dismay at the health board, which is already struggling to hit savings targets.
One senior NHS Lothian source said it was “too early to say” what the implications would be and that “no specific casualties or cuts” had yet been identified.
But they admitted that it was obvious that there would have to be a “tightening of belts”.
Insiders have suggested that plans to boost staff and capacity may need to be reassessed, while services that are seen as non-essential are likely to be first in line for the axe.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said: “For years NHS Lothian has suffered as a result of an anomaly in the funding formula, hampering its ability to deliver the services the region needs.
“All current financial planning has been based on the assumption that extra funding would come in to deal with this underfunding. The health board was counting on that, so this news is a blow.
“What this news doesn’t change is that resources are desperately stretched.
“NHS Lothian continues to struggle with capacity in hospital beds and social care and continues to rely on the private sector to meet demand.
“Until these core capacity issues are addressed we will continue to see problems in areas like waiting times, patient complaints and staff stress.”
Susan Goldsmith, NHS Lothian’s finance director, admitted that the health board “need to do some things differently” to maintain services.
She said: “We are in the process of developing our long-term strategic plan to allow us to continue to provide safe, effective care and healthier lives for all. The changes in funding allocation will be considered as part of this planning process.
“Our focus will be on service redesign, efficiency and productivity, rather than additional resources, to ensure we have the services and capacity to meet the needs of the people of Lothian.”