“£134 million black hole” in Scotland’s health budget

Scotland’s largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is said to be considering cutting spending on nurses in a bid to plug what a huge budget deficit.

Scotland’s largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is reported to be considering cutting spending on nurses in a bid to plug what is thought to be a £60 million deficit for the next financial year.

The board has said that it has exhausted “softer” options for dealing with the difficulties they face, and so had to consider “more radical options” such as voluntary redundancies and natural wastage.

According to the Herald newspaper, it is thought that given the size of the financial problems at the board, management are unlikely to be able to offer much above the statutory redundancy package. The plans come among a series of proposals for dealing with the budget difficulties, including moving the headquarters.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland, the board’s Director of Nursing, Rosslyn Crocket, said:

“Previously, patients would have come in and stayed overnight for two or three days, so, because we’ve had that change that means we need less nurses in the wards to cover 24-hours-a-day.”

However, Anne Thompson, Scotland Officer for the Royal College of Nursing, raised fears that such redundancy would impact the quality of patent care:

“RCN Scotland would be extremely concerned about any reduction in the number of registered nurses, and we have met with the board and other unions to discuss their proposals.

“We know that health boards across Scotland are facing difficult times because of the recession, but quality patient care and frontline services must not be sacrificed for the sake of balancing the books.”

For the opposition, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jackie Ballie made clear her concerns:

“It is simply unacceptable that Scotland’s biggest health board should be forced to consider denying patients new treatments or making staff redundant to balance the books. This will inevitably have an impact on frontline patient care.”

The Scottish Government reacted with a sideswipe at London, with a spokesman quoted in the Herald as saying:

“The reality is that the NHS budget is rising next year in real terms to a record £11.347bn – even as Scotland’s overall budget is falling in real terms because of Westminster cuts. As a Government, we have prioritised and protected health in our draft budget for 2010/11, in the toughest financial circumstances since devolution, precisely because of the top priority we attach to Scotland’s NHS.”

The news comes as the Liberal Democrats warned that a report from Audit Scotland highlighted that as a result of government initiated funding changes, Health Boards across Scotland faced a black hole of £134 million.
Liberal Democrat Health Spokesman Ross Finnie said:

“Using Audit Scotland figures, we can reveal that the NHS could face a £133.9million funding black hole. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde alone faces a £51.4million cut. The government’s own auditors don’t know where the additional funding to fill this gap would come from.

“Audit Scotland were concerned that frontline services could be cut to fund the £200 million efficiency savings, so finding an extra £133.9million on top could be seriously bad news for patient services.”

Responding, the Cabinet Secretary of Health and Wellbeing Nicola Sturgeon attacked the Liberal Democrat assertion:

“This is ill-informed scaremongering, because in reality the NHS budget is rising next year in real terms to a record £11.347bn.”

As debate began, in a sign of some consensus, Finance Secretary John Swiney has admitted that he is seriously considering a proposal from Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott to cut the pay of all public sector employees on £100,000 or more by 5 per cent.

It is thought that such a move could free up £30 million for the Scottish Government.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.