National Health Service Boards (Deficits)

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Health and Well-being – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 21st February 2008.

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Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 2:15 pm, 21st February 2008

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it is anticipated that any NHS boards will have a financial deficit in the next financial year. (S3O-2354)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

NHS Western Isles is the only health board currently expected to have a financial deficit in 2008-09. The board has a cumulative deficit of £3.364 million, brought forward from 2006-07. In the current financial year, the board is cautiously optimistic of delivering in-year financial break-even. If that happens, the board will carry forward the cumulative deficit of £3.364 million into 2008-09.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

Highland MSPs recently received a briefing from NHS Highland, at which we were told that NHS Highland would have to find more than £17 million of savings in order to break even in 2008-09. With smaller budget increases planned for the next few years; with ever more stringent targets to meet; with the spectre of a new funding formula that would work against rural health boards; and with the additional cost on rural boards of providing services such as out-of-hours care to remote communities, will the cabinet secretary assure us that the Government is not embarked on a path that will lead to deficits or cuts in services in future years?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I can certainly assure Mary Scanlon that that is not the Government's intention. We want to continue what has been a period of financial stability in the NHS, and we want to deal with any particular issues that arise, such as the situation in NHS Western Isles.

I will make two additional points. All NHS boards received an increase of at least 3.15 per cent for the next financial year. In what was a tight overall financial settlement, I think that that was a very good increase. Some boards that are below their Arbuthnott and NHS Scotland national resource allocation committee target shares received greater increases. NHS Lothian was one such board, and all the boards have welcomed the increases warmly.

I think that NRAC was at the heart of Mary Scanlon's questions. She will know that NRAC was a committee of independent experts that was set up by my predecessor. NRAC reported to us and I asked the Health and Sport Committee to make observations and comments on the report. NHS boards have also commented on it. I will shortly take a decision on whether or not we will implement the NRAC recommendations. However—as I have said before and as I want to repeat now—if we implement the recommendations in the report, we will do so on a phased basis. No health board will receive less funding, as a result of such implementation, than it does at the moment. It is important to stress that point yet again in the chamber, for the benefit of all NHS boards.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Is the minister aware of financial pressures that certain health boards and services are facing? Does she acknowledge that certain services are now under pressures that they have not experienced to date?

I recently visited Albyn house in Aberdeen. I am sure that the minister will agree—because Kenny MacAskill is on record as doing so—that Albyn house provides a very important service in tackling alcohol abuse. It provides safety for people who would otherwise be in accident and emergency or police custody, and it gives advice and support on alcohol services. Does the minister share my concern that the project now faces financial cuts? She is on record as placing significant emphasis on alcohol issues, so will she put her money where her mouth is and ensure that the project is properly funded?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Perhaps everyone in Scotland—those who use NHS services and those who do not—would be better served if Margaret Curran and her colleagues were to cease scaremongering without any foundation, both within and outwith this chamber.

I am sure that my predecessor—I see that he is gracing us with his presence—would agree that all NHS boards always face financial pressures, because that is in the nature of the work that they do and the services that they provide. In the context of a very tight financial settlement this year, we have ensured above-inflation increases for the NHS. Those increases have been welcomed. They will enable the NHS to continue to provide the excellent service that it provides.

On the particular case that Margaret Curran raised, I will, of course, look into it, as I will do with any cases that are raised with me. I am happy to write to her once I have done so.

I suggest that Margaret Curran read the budget—perhaps people who abstain on the budget do not need to read it in advance. If she does so, she will see that the Government is committed to investing, over the next three years, an additional £85 million in initiatives to tackle alcohol misuse. When I appeared before the Health and Sport Committee to talk about the budget, Margaret Curran's deputy spokesperson, Richard Simpson, welcomed that investment. Perhaps she should do so as well.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

Will the cabinet secretary join me in welcoming the news that NHS Western Isles is making progress towards breaking even in future years? What lessons does the Government hope to draw from the Auditor General's recent report into the corporate and financial governance of NHS Western Isles?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The Parliament's Audit Committee is currently looking into that issue and I look forward to reading its report.

As I have said, NHS Western Isles is cautiously optimistic that it will reach a financial break-even position this year. If it does so, that will be extremely good news for the people of the Western Isles and will enable the board to move forward with more stability than it has known in recent years.

We are always looking to learn lessons that previous Administrations perhaps failed to learn. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the management team in NHS Western Isles, the acting chief executive and the chairman of the board. They are doing a good job of ensuring that the problems of the health board that have been present for the past few years are tackled while the board continues to provide first-class services for the people of the islands.