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Former chief of scandal-hit NHS Tayside says health service has become a game of political football

Former Health Secretary Shona Robison (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)
Former Health Secretary Shona Robison (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)

THE former chair of a scandal-hit health board has claimed the NHS is suffering from being used as a “political football” in Scotland.

Professor John Connell, who resigned from his post at NHS Tayside in April, said he fears that finding people willing to take up leadership roles will become increasingly difficult as a result of the “intense criticism” that comes with the job.

The crisis at NHS Tayside emerged earlier this year when it was revealed more than £2 million had been taken from its endowment fund – which is made up of public donations and bequests from wills – to cover the costs of new IT systems in 2014.

Auditors also found accounts had been “misrepresented”, with a practice of using funds earmarked for e-health initiatives to offset general expenditure since 2012.

Then Health Secretary Shona Robison intervened by putting the board on ‘special measures’ and taking steps to replace the leadership.

But opposition politicians seized on the scandal amid mounting criticism of the running of the NHS and called for her resignation.

Robison was facing the threat of a no-confidence vote from opposition parties when she stepped down in June during a Cabinet reshuffle, to be replaced by Jeane Freeman.

Professor Connell – who didn’t join the board of NHS Tayside until October 2015 – said he had no knowledge of either of the financial issues until they came to light this year.

He said being chair of NHS Tayside was a “privilege” and it was important the health service was subject to scrutiny because of the amount of public money being spent on it.

But he added: “As long as the NHS in Scotland is viewed as a political football then it will become extremely difficult for genuine innovation and improvement to happen.

“Finding people to take on the leadership of health boards will become increasingly difficult in light of the experiences in Tayside.”