The new chairman of NHS Tayside has vowed to make the service more “open and transparent” as he prepares to grapple with the troubled health board’s financial problems.
John Brown told board members at Kings Cross Hospital that the health service’s “hard-working, committed” staff deserved better leadership from on high.
He said: “I imagine our staff are concerned about the leadership and governance in the organisation and the lack of certainty around our future financial position.
“We want to get confidence back to where it should be, and where it had been for many years.
“We have got to be open and transparent with everything we do.”
Among the actions planned by Mr Brown, who took on the position on April 6, is bringing in experts to review NHS Tayside’s decision-making processes and how it conducts its internal audits.
He has also committed to reducing the number of meetings held behind closed doors.
Already chairman of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC), a role he has held since 2015, the new chief has been recruited following the departure of the previous chairman, Professor John Connell.
Professor Connell resigned earlier this month.
His departure came after auditors at Grant Thornton found £5.3 million of funds had been used to bolster NHS Tayside’s finances, disguised as “deferred expenditure” in the board’s books.
It later emerged, prior to his resignation, that the health board had bent its own rules in order to use money from a charitable endowment fund.
The money — usually spent on patient comforts such as children’s toys or armchairs — was used to prop up the health board’s ailing finances.
However, while Mr Brown has promised a more accountable health service, he has a challenge ahead as the health board moves into the 2018/19 financial year.
At the close of the 2017/18 year, finance chiefs have conceded that a deficit of £32m will be carried forward into the next year.
In all, the board aims to make £44.1m of savings in the year ahead — and needs to make as many of those “recurring” in future years as possible.
However, the health board still has to get its day-to-day spending under control.
Stuart Lyall, head of finance at NHS Tayside, revealed that the overspend for 2017/18 had ballooned to £17.6m — up from £5m as recently as February.
Aggravating factors include paying back the £5.3m of eHealth funding which had been used inappropriately and distributing a £5m lump sum among integrated joint boards (IJBs) — which provide care services for people living in Dundee, Perthshire and Angus.
The sum also includes £900,000 of maintenance cash which had been provided by Holyrood to repair and refurbish buildings.
It emerged that this amounted to a seventh (14%) of the total amount given to Tayside by the government for that purpose.
However, it must now be paid back to Holyrood.
Mr Lyall noted that the money given to Tayside for building touch-ups was “in excess of most of what the other boards receive”.
Mr Brown said: “That’s good news – but that’s only good news if you spend it.”
The health board’s new chairman was not joined by the new chief executive, Malcolm Wright, at yesterday’s meeting.
Mr Wright, who replaced previous chief executive Lesley McLay, is said to be on a pre-planned holiday. While Professor Connell has formally left NHS Tayside, Ms McLay is still employed by the board — but is not currently fulfilling her role.