NHS Lothian chief takes retirement amid waiting times scandal

NHS Lothian chief James Barbour was facing being asked to leave post. Picture: Ian Georgeson
NHS Lothian chief James Barbour was facing being asked to leave post. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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NHS Lothian chief executive James Barbour was today accused of “jumping before he could be pushed” after taking immediate retirement in the wake of the waiting times scandal.

The 59-year-old announced yesterday that he was leaving his post and left his office for the last time later in the day, with a new interim chief executive lined up already to take up his role on Monday.

It was suggested that a meeting of the NHS board had been arranged next week to ask Professor Barbour to leave his job.

NHS Lothian announced just hours after Prof Barbour revealed his retirement plans that Tim Davison, currently chief executive at NHS Lanarkshire, was set to replace him.

Councillor Gordon Beurskens, who represents the Action to Save St John’s Hospital party on West Lothian Council, said the swiftness of his replacement showed Prof Barbour’s days were already numbered.

His retiral was welcomed by the Royal College of Nursing Scotland which attacked the “unhealthy culture” of putting “unacceptable” pressure on staff from top management.

Rumours have also been circulating that Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon asked Prof Barbour to resign after it emerged that NHS staff suspended up to 5000 patients from the waiting list to hit targets for treating patients within 18 weeks.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman insisted that Ms Sturgeon did not ask for his resignation.

Cllr Beurskens said that Prof Barbour had “presided over a culture of bullying and intimidation in NHS Lothian which became endemic”.

He added: “It’s clearly a case of jumping before he could be pushed. We have campaigned tirelessly for accountability within NHS Lothian. Mr Barbour’s departure should be a signal to NHS Lothian’s dedicated staff that the culture of intimidation is at an end.”

NHS bosses launched an independent inquiry into allegations of bullying with the results to be presented to Ms Sturgeon by the end of this month.

Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: “The unhealthy culture that is currently being investigated at NHS Lothian has resulted in unacceptable pressure on staff. This culture clearly emanated from the top.”

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “James Barbour has given long service to the NHS and I wish him the best of luck.”

Prof Barbour released a statement which said: “It has been a privilege to serve the NHS and the people of Lothian and also to have worked with thousands of talented and committed staff.

“The time is now right for me to do something new and different as the board embraces a new strategic direction.”