NHS chief’s emails apology branded ‘mealy-mouthed’

St John's Hospital, Livingston. Picture: Jayne Emsley

St John's Hospital, Livingston. Picture: Jayne Emsley

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THE chairman of NHS Lothian has been accused of offering only a “mealy-mouthed half apology” over controversial comments he made about hundreds of emails from members of the public concerned over the future of children’s services at St John’s Hospital.

The remark by Brian Houston, contained in an email to NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison, was uncovered by Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay in a mass of documents he obtained from the health board under Freedom of Information.

After discovering that a “river of emails” arriving in his inbox had been instigated by Mr Findlay, Mr Houston wrote: “I’m not bothered, and I don’t think we should pay them any heed.”

A review is currently under way into the future of children’s services at St John’s after staffing shortages led to temporary closure of the children’s ward in the summer.

It is being conducted by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).Mr Findlay has claimed the FoI material shows the board has gone along with a deliberate attempt by the Scottish Government to delay publication of the review’s findings until after the Holyrood elections in May.

He has accused the board of misleading patients, families, staff and elected representatives over the timings of the review.

And he has called for Mr Houston and chief officer of acute hospital services Jim Crombie to resign in light of what he claimed were “damning revelations”.

In a letter to Mr Findlay, Mr Houston “categorically refuted” suggestions the board misled anyone. He insisted the timeline for the review was based on the availability of the RCPCH experts.

But he did say: “Regarding the 415 standardised and virtually identical emails I received, I agree that the language used in my email to the chief executive was unfortunate.”

He added: “My intention was always to ensure that the material content of this feedback would be made available to the RCPCH review team but I did not believe that all 415 individual emails with virtually identical standardised content required to be submitted.”

Mr Findlay was not impressed. He said: “This is a mealy-mouthed half apology from Brian Houston. The general thrust of their letter to me is unrepentant.

“Despite their protestations, it is clear that they have been got at by the Scottish Government and went along with the plan to delay the review despoiot the fact they themselves stated how such a delay could further jeopardise the wards’ future. This is a disgrace and their inability to acknowledge this is extremely disappointing.”

In a statement to the Evening News, Mr Houston repeated the phrasing in his letter to Mr Findlay, saying his language was “unfortunate”, but added: “I have publicly apologised for this.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Lothian said Mr Houston had apologised at last week’s board meeting, but did not have the text of his comment.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com