HEALTH Secretary Alex Neil was today set to publicly quiz senior NHS Lothian chiefs over the waiting times crisis, allegations of bullying and the prospect of patients being flown overseas for operations.
Speaking exclusively to the Evening News ahead of the planned crunch annual review into the health board’s performance, Mr Neil said that checking on progress over waiting times – after it emerged earlier this year that thousands had been waiting longer than they should have to for treatment – would be his “number one” priority.
The new health supremo said he would also be raising the prospect of patients having to be flown abroad for complex treatment in order for health chiefs to meet a legal time framework – as we revealed last month.
He also offered his backing to NHS Lothian’s chief executive Tim Davison, who he insisted was the “right person” for the job, and revealed that Mr Davison was the first health board chief executive he met after taking over from Nicola Sturgeon in early September.
Mr Neil said: “There are a number of things I’ll be raising, but obviously we want to check on the progress in dealing with waiting times – we have got to get the issue sorted.
“The idea that NHS Lothian is going to send patients to Europe has been raised in parliament. That is very much a last resort and I want to clarify that.
“We can’t have NHS staff bullied in any way and I want to reassure myself that that culture is being put out of NHS Lothian.”
Mr Neil was preparing to meet nurses at the Western General Hospital this morning, before travelling to Murrayfield for the review, which members of the public are able to attend and ask their own questions.
He told the Evening News that NHS Lothian would get extra government cash next year, in recognition of the challenges that it faced. Its overall budget is to increase by 4.4 per cent next year, compared with a Scottish average of 3.3 per cent, and £5.2m more than had previously been anticipated will go into NHS Lothian coffers in a bid to lower a disparity in funding between health boards which has seen Lothian short-changed in recent years.
The funding comes in addition to the £10m loan which the Government gave NHS Lothian to deal with its crisis over waiting times, which have fallen dramatically in recent months largely due to patients being treated in the private sector, and an increased use of private doctors running clinics in NHS hospitals.
Mr Neil said the progress was evidence that Mr Davison, who took over as interim chief executive in April before landing the job permanently in July, was the right man to lead the health board through what is the most challenging period in its history.
“I know Tim well as I’m an MSP in Lanarkshire and he was chief executive there,” he said. “The first chief executive I met after becoming health secretary was Tim Davison, as I wanted to be sure that we were working together to deal with the problems he inherited.
“He’s the right person to take NHS Lothian forward although he’s got to be given time – the problems can’t be solved overnight. But if you look at the figures already in waiting times they’ve been quite dramatically reduced. It’s very clear that they’re already making substantial inroads.”