NICOLA STURGEON has backed Shona Robison to remain as Health Secretary despite the head of Scotland’s public spending watchdog claiming clear warnings had been issued about NHS Tayside’s finances.
Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General for Scotland, said there was a “significant question” about why the warnings were not taken seriously.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard demanded the First Minister must “face up to the fact that the time has come for her Health Secretary to go”.
He pressed the SNP leader on the situation at NHS Tayside at First Minister’s Questions, saying: “Here we have a health board raiding charity funds to pay the bills and that is after fiddling the accounts.
“What makes this even worse is this all happening in Tayside under the nose of the Health Secretary, who is a Member of Parliament for Dundee.”
Ms Sturgeon however told him she would “continue to give my support as First Minister to the job the Health Secretary is doing to strengthen the leadership of the NHS Tayside board”.
Mr Leonard raised the financial difficulties at NHS Tayside – which has required £45.3 million of Scottish Government loans in recent years – after the Auditor General for Scotland appeared before MSPs on Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee.
The evidence session came after Health Secretary Shona Robison was forced to intervene in the running of the ailing NHS board.
The chairman of the board was replaced earlier this month after Ms Robison called on him to quit following revelations NHS Tayside had used cash from public donations to fund new technology.
Ms Gardner said auditors had flagged that “as being something which was an unusual transaction which played into the growing picture of financial pressures at NHS Tayside”.
She stated: “Internal auditors raised concerns about the retrospective transactions back in 2014 and it is included in the external auditors report as well.
“There is a significant question about why, throughout the NHS system, warnings from auditors are not being taken seriously.
“The reason why is something you would need to ask of Scottish Government and of the board itself.”
Meanwhile a review carried out by accountants Grant Thornton found that since 2012 the health board had “misrepresented” its financial performance by “holding” £5.3 million allocated by the Scottish Government for eHealth initiatives.
The report found that in 2016-17 the health board effectively used the money being held to offset general expenditure, making its financial position look more favourable.
“The situation at NHS Tayside did not come as a surprise to anyone who was paying attention,” Mr Leonard said
“Year after year the health board sought a bail out, year after year Audit Scotland warned this was not sustainable and year after year your government has been in denial about the scale of the problem.”
Ms Sturgeon accepted there had been “issues in Tayside for some time” but insisted a number of measures had been put in place to attempt to deal them.
She added: “Of course since the issue of the endowment fund has come to light the Health Secretary has taken the action she has taken.
“So at every stage there has been support for NHS Tayside, but when the culmination of issues reached the point it did the Health Secretary rightly decided the leadership of the board required to be strengthened.”