PATIENTS may have to wait longer for treatment by a health board which has required funding bailouts from the Scottish Government for the last four years.

NHS Scotland chief executive Paul Gray said reducing treatment rates is one of the "contingencies" NHS Tayside raised with him in a bid to improve its financial situation.

The health board has received loans known as brokerage from the Government - with this expected to total almost £36 million by the end of 2017-18.

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Mr Gray told Holyrood's Public Audit Committee the chair and chief executive of NHS Tayside have 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 said: "Does that mean longer waiting lists?"

Mr Gray said: "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."

NHS Tayside bosses have been set a target to achieve more than £90 million of savings by the end of 2017/18.

It comes after Scotland's Auditor General said last year that NHS Tayside's financial position was the "most challenging" she had seen. She said the health board would have to make savings of £214m over five years to break even and pay off its debts, describing the scale of the cuts as "unprecedented across Scotland".

Christine McLaughlin, director of health finance at the Scottish Government, told the Committee that the health board expects to raise £10-15m over the next five years by selling off assets and will be allowed to keep the proceeds rather than returning them to a central pot. She said it had already reduced the cost of agency nurses by £750,000 between April and December 2016, compared to the same period in 2015, and was also seeking to cut spending on medical locums and prescriptions.

Ms McLaughlin conceded that around 60 per cent of savings in Tayside were being achieved through one-off cuts which will not be available in subsequent years, but stressed that their five-year plan indicated that by 2021 around 60 per cent of savings would be recurrent annually. She added that this "would feel a much healthier place for NHS Tayside to be".

The Committee previously heard that NHS Tayside's 66 senior managers had awarded one another pay uplifts worth a total of £87,000 this year despite the financial crisis.

These were subsequently signed off by the national performance management committee in Edinburgh, but Mr Gray insisted that these were not "performance bonuses".

He added: "There are no performance bonuses in payment in NHS Scotland."

Tory MSP Ross Thomson said Tayside executives had driven the health board to a "financial cliff edge" over the past 15 years.

He said: "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."