The Scottish Government and health board bosses must learn lessons from the “systemic failure of governance” at NHS Tayside, a Holyrood committee said.
Members of the Public Audit Committee also warned that cash-strapped health board – which had been bailed out with more than £50 million of Government cash in recent years – would still need a “high level of support” from ministers.
NHS Tayside has come in for heavy scrutiny by the committee after the health board was hit by financial scandals in 2018.
The then health secretary Shona Robison was forced to intervene after it emerged the board had used cash from public donations to fund new technology.
Meanwhile, a review by accountants at Grant Thornton found that since 2012 the board had “misrepresented” its financial performance, by holding money allocated for eHealth initiatives against general expenditure.
Audit committee convener Jenny Marra said: “Whilst the past can’t be changed, the Scottish Government must learn lessons to ensure that these kinds of issues don’t emerge again.”
She spoke out after the committee report found: “The events that came to light in 2018 revealed a systemic failure of governance at NHS Tayside.”
MSPs added it was “disappointing” that it had taken the two financial scandals to trigger action – adding that both the board and the Scottish Government should have dealt with the issues “in the preceding years”.
While the report accepted the NHS is “under significant pressure as a consequence of a tight financial environment, increasing demand for services, difficulties in recruiting staff and rising public expectations”, MSPs said that NHS Tayside’s financial position had been unsustainable as far back as 2012-13.
The committee’s “principal concern” is that “the performance of NHS Tayside (along with that of all boards) is significantly improved”.
And the report added that “NHS Tayside still has much work to do to restore the public’s trust in its ability to manage its finances so that patients can feel confident that they will receive the level of care that they need”.
Although “positive action” has been taken in the last year, MSPs said the health board would need to display “strong and consistent leadership” if it is to “address the serious governance concerns and to stabilise the board’s financial position”
The MSPs concluded: “Both the challenges facing NHS Tayside and the associated level of risk remain significant and will continue to require a high level of support from the Scottish Government.
“The Scottish Government and all boards need to learn from the experience at NHS Tayside and reflect on what changes are required across the NHS in Scotland to ensure that these kinds of governance failings do not arise again.”
Ms Marra stated that “challenges at NHS Tayside remain and NHS leaders should work to meet all of the 20 national targets”.
She added: “If local leaders work to improve services and get their finances under control, the public’s confidence will increase.”
The publication of the committee’s report comes just a week after an independent inquiry into mental health services in the area published its interim findings.
These said suicidal patients were sometimes “not taken seriously” by health workers and raised concerns about illegal drugs being sold within the Carseview Centre in Dundee.
NHS Tayside chairman John Brown said while it had been a “very challenging period for NHS Tayside” the board had “learned the lessons from the issues highlighted”.
He added: “I am confident the new leadership team is making significant progress in terms of returning NHS Tayside to financial stability and improving performance for 2019-20 and beyond.”