FRONTLINE health services across the Lothians face cuts worth up to £25 million as NHS bosses battle to balance the books.
Savings will be found by slashing GP prescribing bills, cutting the use of bank and agency staff, and reviewing areas such as sexual health services, according to NHS Lothian financial blueprints for 2016-17.
Board chiefs are struggling to tackle a £77 million funding gap against a backdrop of rising demand and an ageing population.
Chief executive Tim Davison has admitted “extremely difficult decisions” will have to be taken.
He said: “I don’t think we should be timid about this. We have never attempted anything close to the scale of this before.”
The plans were rubber-stamped by senior board members yesterday, despite some raising concerns over the lack of detail on individual proposals.
Susan Goldsmith, NHS Lothian’s finance director, said: “We are not intending to cut these services. It’s just we will be providing the services with less resources.
“In some cases there might even be improvements in services, such as efficiencies around sickness absences which could offer a better service.”
The latest proposals include a bid to reduce reliance on the private sector, which NHS Lothian has used extensively during the past six years.
Ms Goldsmith said the move could have an effect on elective surgeries such as knee operations and hip replacements.
Patients have previously been sent to the private sector for treatment if Lothian hospitals do not have sufficient capacity to meet the Scottish Government’s 12-week guarantee.
NHS Lothian claims it is consistently underfunded by ministers, as it receives 90p per patient.
The figure for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is £1.06.
Political leaders have expressed concern at the proposed cuts.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “NHS Lothian has already undergone many efficiency savings, as have health boards across Scotland. That is why we will commit to increase NHS spending to make sure patients are looked after and staff not overworked.”
Sarah Boyack, Labour candidate for Edinburgh Central, said: “What is clear is that NHS Lothian services are under huge financial pressure because of our growing and ageing population.
“The fact that the board is now discussing closing beds and cutting services is deeply worrying. We know that a raft of targets are not being met, that in some parts of the city it’s getting harder for people to access GP services.
“I know from my case work that there are many people who are stuck without social care services putting pressure on families and carers.”
The full financial plan will be approved at a later date.