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NHS Highland warns Highland Council to find £11 million or take back some adult social care responsibilities


By Scott Maclennan

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NHS Highland interim chairman Boyd Robertson.
NHS Highland interim chairman Boyd Robertson.

NHS Highland has been accused of putting management before care after it emerged the health board was demanding an extra £11 million from Highland Council for adult social care.

A leaked letter from NHS Highland chairman Boyd Robertson to Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson revealed the two largest public service bodies on the north are at loggerheads over the alleged £11 million funding gap.

Despite NHS Highland getting around £94 million in annual funding from the local authority under the Partnership Agreement, the health board says it is not enough and gave the local authority until April to find a solution.

If it did not do so in that time then Professor Boyd warned the NHS Highland may have to hand back some of the responsibilities for adult social care which supports a huge range of some of the most vulnerable adults from aged 16 to the very elderly.

The NHS board chairman even blamed the budget gap for a large part of the board’s financial woes which were exposed in a damning Audit Scotland report.

He wrote: “The deficit incurred as a result of our delivery of Adult Social Care functions has been the major contributor to the financial challenge we are now addressing and, therefore, we cannot allow the current situation to persist beyond the April renewal deadline.”

“Our primary aim is to understand as soon as possible how the Highland Council intends to manage the residual funding gap, whether this be through reducing the functions it delegates and/or through provision of additional funding to NHS Highland.”

Cllr Andrew Jarvie hit out at the health board's "ever-expanding tangled web of desk based management."
Cllr Andrew Jarvie hit out at the health board's "ever-expanding tangled web of desk based management."

But in a scathing rebuke to the health board’s stance Highland Councillor Andrew Jarvie said: “I am extraordinarily dismayed that NHS Highland once again, looks first to cut levels of support and care offered for Highland’s most vulnerable adults, before cutting its ever-expanding tangled web of desk based management.

“Not even 12 months ago, NHS Highland had all of its debt written off, giving it a fresh start. This should have been a lease of new life, a fresh footing to improve the range of services, cut waiting times and boost satisfaction.

“What we have instead is the same old, cuts to some of the most essential services whilst seemingly doing nothing to tackle outdated, bureaucratic, hierarchical structures which are just a cash sponge.”

The demand for £11 million risks the council’s own budget at a time it can ill-afford it with record low reserves and many services cut to the bone in a bid to reach its target of around £30 million in savings.

Inverness-based economist Tony Mackay cast doubt on some of the claims made in the letter while noting the council may have to increase what it gives to NHS Highland but “not by £11 million.”

“I believe that NHS Highland’s finances have been poorly managed for many years so it is good that the new Chairman is trying to resolve the problems, he said.

“I also believe that the adult social care scheme is poorly managed and that there is considerable scope for financial savings, although not to the extent of the £11 million mentioned in Boyd Robertson’s letter.

“It is a difficult issue because the demand for adult social care scheme will inevitably continue to increase as the Highland population ages.

“Professor Robertson is wrong to claim that this is the main cause of NHS Highland’s financial problems but it is certainly a serious issue which requires solving.The council will have to increase the payment to the NHS but not by £11 million a year.”

Despite the potential impact on so many vulnerable people across the region, neither NHS Highland nor Highland Council were willing to comment.

A spokeswoman for the health board said: “NHS Highland does not comment on correspondence of this nature with our colleagues in Highland Council.”

A spokesman for Highland Council said: "We are unable to comment on private and confidential correspondence between Highland Council and NHS."


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