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Lothian Health Board

Volume 168: debated on Wednesday 28 February 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of the Lothian health board; and what was discussed.

I have not had an official meeting with the chairman of Lothian health board recently, but my Department has been in regular contact with the chairman of the board in recent weeks.

When will the Secretary of State come clean about the crisis in the Health Service in Lothian? What cuts in the service will have to be made if it is to balance its books by the end of the year? Why has not the Secretary of State published Mr. Cruickshank's report, and when will he admit that the present crisis is a consequence of the Government's failure, year in, year out, to provide money for the additional number of old people and for advances in medical technology?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, Lothian is one of the better-funded health boards in the United Kingdom. If other boards throughout Scotland and south of the border are able to contain their expenditure within their budget, it is obviously reasonable to expect Lothian to do the same.

I should be unhappy about publishing the recent report into Lothian's finances without the agreement of the board itself. At present, we are working on the main priority—trying to find a way of ensuring that the board contains its expenditure within the resources provided for it and without unacceptable consequences for patients, whom the hon. Gentleman and I both want to be protected.

The Secretary of State must know that it has already been established that the health board has been underfunded for many years. Why does he criticise the present board, all of whose members are his nominees? Can he reply specifically to the charge that the extent of the deficit means that there is now a crisis in the Health Service in Midlothian, which will result in hospital closures and cuts in medical staff numbers?

I have already said that I see no good ground for crisis closures. We all want a proper study to be made of the circumstances that have led to the overspending. We are announcing today a significant increase in the board's cash limit for the current year, to enable it to make any payments that fall due in that year. We now await the board's proposals—arrived at in consultation with the chief executive of the NHS in Scotland—for dealing with the longer-term problems.