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NHS Highland needs "significantly more help" MSP Edward Mountain claims during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood

By Gregor White

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NHS Highland.
NHS Highland.

MSP Edward Mountain tabled an emergency question on help for NHS Highland after a critical Audit Scotland report.

The Conservative meber for the Highlands and Islands challenged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to provide more support to NHS Highland following the Audit Scotland report which raised serious concerns about NHS Highland’s ability to achieve financial balance over the next three years.

Mr Mountain urged the First Minister to provide the health board with additional support to prevent it being placed on the highest level of the NHS Board Performance Escalation framework.

NHS Highland is currently at stage 4 of the framework.

If it was raised to stage 5 the Scottish Government would have the power to take direct control of the health board.

Mr Mountain fears that would mean local control over health care decisions in the Highlands could be taken away for the foreseeable future.

MSP Edward Mountain.
MSP Edward Mountain.

In his question Mr Mountain said: "The Auditor General has just produced a very critical report on the finances of NHS Highland and patients are rightly very concerned.

"It is clear the board of NHS Highland need significantly more help to achieve their objectives.

"Will the First Minister ensure that the Cabinet Secretary for Health provides that help without placing NHS Highland into Level 5 of the escalation process?"

The First Minister replied: "We will continue, as we always do, to work closely with health boards to make sure that they are managing their budgets but also that they are providing the quality of patient care that they have a responsibility to provide.

"NHS Highland resource budget for this financial year increased by 2.9 per cent and of course the health budget overall is increasing and is now at record levels.

"So we will continue to properly resource our National Health Service, it will always work within pressures and that’s been particularly the case in recent years, and we’ll work closely with NHS Highland and other boards to make sure that they deliver the services patients need."

Afterwards Mr Mountain said: "The First Minister gave no assurances today that NHS Highland would not be raised into stage 5 of the escalation process. This would threaten the existence of the board of NHS Highland.

"I believe there is a real danger that the Scottish Government could take direct control of NHS Highland if the health board’s financial position does not improve.

"The lack of a regional health board would mean no local control over health care in the Highlands and I fear that the Scottish Government will pursue its own agenda of further centralising our health services. That’s not what patients in the Highlands want.

"That’s why I am calling on the Scottish Government to offer the health board more support so that it can avoid being raised to the highest level of escalation."

Related article: Audit Scotland calls on NHS Highland to urgently address leadership and organisational problems

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