Health chiefs have been forced to hand over £70,000 to one of the world’s richest universities despite pulling out of a business course.
NHS Lothian, which is expected to miss its savings target by more than £9 million this year, had enrolled in a million-dollar course at Harvard Business School – but only ten people signed up to take part.
The poor uptake in the leadership practice programme forced bosses to take the embarrassing decision to cancel its agreement with the prestigious Massachusetts institution, but the health board was still charged a £71,471 fee under the terms of the deal.
MSPs today blasted NHS management for the blunder, which cost the rough equivalent of three nurses’ wages for a year.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said: “This looks like a huge waste of public money. It seems that assumptions were made without firm commitments from other health boards. They should have been made to sign on the dotted line before NHS Lothian went ahead with this and ended up carrying the can for the cancellation bill.”
NHS Lothian had previously spent £1.1m for 43 senior managers to complete the two-and-a-half year Masters course, which is delivered in partnership with Napier University in the Edinburgh area.
The health board then attempted to roll out the programme across Scotland, and signed a £572,000 contract with Harvard last year.
It is claimed that there was strong interest in the course, which is intended to expose mainly clinical managers to “mindset changing ideas”, before just ten signed up.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw slammed NHS Lothian for already spending more than £1m on the training course, which he branded a “vanity project”, at a time when budgets were under strain.
He said: “The public wouldn’t approve of this, however popular it was in NHS Lothian, and it seems health boards across Scotland feel the same. While saving cash now is a bonus, it is utterly careless and bizarre that our tight-squeezed NHS is having to pay one of the world’s richest institutions £70,000.”
NHS Lothian has been forced to seek retrospective approval from the Scottish Government for paying the cancellation fee, as it is only allowed to approve fruitless payments of up to £20,000.
Alan Boyter, NHS Lothian’s HR chief, said: “The Scottish Government and other health boards agreed that the programme had an extremely positive outcome.
“However, when it came to the extension of the programme across Scotland, the actual number of people put forward was insufficient for the programme to proceed.”