HEALTH chiefs have opted to delay the introduction of new drug treatments in Highland because of continued budget pressures.
The reluctant step, combined with the imminent loss of an interventional radiology service, has added to the board’s most challenging period in its history.
Following the humiliation of another financial bailout by the Scottish Government – £15 million to break even – it confirmed on Tuesday that a line would be drawn on what merits acceptable spending on drugs.
Board chairman David Alston reaffirmed that he and his colleagues were budgeting long term, beyond next year and had no choice.
“It’s not about cutting but containing our expenditure,” he said. “We need to make ensure we can deliver the services we need to deliver within the resource that we’ve got and target that resource to where it’s most needed.
“We need to contain adult social care costs, contain prescribing costs and contain our supplementary (locum) staffing cost.”
Updating colleagues at Tuesday’s monthly board meeting in Inverness, Gaener Rodger confirmed there was a current vacancy. Another radiologist had recently resigned and another was about to retire.
“There’s a possibility that we won’t have an interventional service in Highland after the summer,” she said.
“I’d like to seek some assurance that we’re putting plans in place to mitigate as much as possible any impact on our patients.”
Highland medical director Rod Harvey said the situation was of “very great concern”.
He said action was being taken to mitigate things to maintain an interventional radiology presence at Raigmore Hospital.
Defending the board’s decision to delay the introduction of new medicines, Dr Alston said: “We have a resource and we need to make sure it’s spent where it’s most effective.
“This is a national problem and part of this is about not spending the drugs money on branded products where you could use a generic product, encouraging people to buy over the counter medicines where that’s appropriate rather than getting them on prescription which can cost more.
“It means we can then direct the resource to where it’s most needed. Some of that will be existing treatments, and some of that will be new medicines as they come on line.”
The radiology problem, he confirmed, was not financial but a recruitment issue.
“It’s a very serious concern. We think the longer term solutions have to be regional and national,” he said.
“We’ve been discussing it with government for 18 months or more. We need a common solution.”