Patients may have to wait longer for treatment by NHS Tayside in a bid to save money, it was claimed today.
NHS Scotland chief executive Paul Gray said reducing treatment rates was one of the “contingencies” NHS Tayside had raised with him in a bid to improve its financial situation.
The health board has required additional money from the Government — with this expected to total almost £36 million by the end of 2017-18.
Mr Gray told Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee that the chairman and chief executive of NHS Tayside had raised various options with him.
He said: “One of the contingencies a board can deploy would be to slow down the rate of treating people in some areas.
“That’s what I want to discuss with them, whether and how they will deploy some of these contingencies. There may be some that are appropriate and some are not, I just want to be sure about that.”
Committee convener Jenny Marra, Dundee-based MSP for the North East, asked: “Does that mean longer waiting lists?”
Mr Gray replied: “Yes, let’s not beat about the bush, of course it would. It would mean that somebody who might have been treated at the end of March might not be treated until April.”
For this current financial year, NHS Tayside has a gap of just over £58m between expenditure and income, MSPs were told.
NHS Tayside bosses have been set the target of making more than £90m of savings this year and next. MSPs pressed Mr Gray on when the financial problems had become apparent, with the SNP’s Gail Ross asking: “Surely the alarm bells start ringing when you need to get bailed out by the Scottish Government in consecutive years, time after time?”
Tory MSP Ross Thomson said a specialist taskforce had been sent in to help 15 years ago in a bid to avoid the “very financial situation NHS Tayside has found itself in”.
He said: “This has happened over a number of years. It’s like driving towards a cliff-edge, a Thelma and Louise-style financial cliff-edge where there are those in the driver’s seat who know the direction of travel and have pushed the accelerator, knowing that that will be the end result.
“I’m trying to understand where in the organisation those who have been driving the car over that period of time, knowing where it was going to take the organisation, are going to be held to account and if there is going to be any investigation from your side into those who were responsible.”
Mr Gray said: “I will reflect on that but it is difficult to hold to account people who are not there, and also to look back at decisions which were taken, for example about assets, in the light of today’s economic circumstances which now turn out to be wrong, we would have to reflect whether they were wrong at the time they were taken.”