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NHS funding boost – but challenges remain

NHS Shetland chairman Ian Kinniburgh.

THE LOCAL health board continues to face “significant challenge” in balancing its books despite receiving a 4.5 per cent funding increase from the Scottish Government, according to NHS Shetland chairman Ian Kinniburgh.

Two months ahead of May’s Holyrood elections, the SNP announced on Monday that NHS Shetland would receive an additional £1.8 million in 2016/17 as part of a nationwide £250 million boost.

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That increase includes £1 million for investment in social care as part of efforts to integrate health and social care between the NHS and local authorities. Councils across Scotland saw their funding cut earlier this year.

Kinniburgh said the funding was “good news” but was in line with what NHS Shetland had been anticipating, meaning it doesn’t eliminate the need to find £3.9 million-worth of efficiencies in the next few years.

“It’s not new money, it’s money that we’ve already planned for, but it’s obviously good for it to be confirmed,” he said.

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Kinniburgh said that, while health board budgets were being given greater protection than councils, health inflation “tends to run at quite a high percentage”.

Scottish health secretary Shona Robison

Challenges include the high cost of new drugs when they first come onto the market.

He said NHS Shetland wasn’t going to attempt to cut nearly a tenth of its budget in a single year, but the savings exercise “will require some significant changes that we’ll need to work through and discuss with the public”.

“We have to look at reducing our costs with the minimum impact on delivery of services to patients,” Kinniburgh continued.

In a statement announcing the funding settlement, Scottish health secretary Shona Robison said: “We’re clear that people in Shetland should have access to the right care, in the right place, at the right time.” 

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She added that integrating health and social care would “allow people to be supported to maintain their independence for as long as possible, in their own homes and communities, and mean that fewer people need to go to hospital to receive care”.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott has been a regular critic of the funding level provided to NHS Shetland in recent years.

Responding to Monday’s announcement, Scott said: “Any new money for Shetland’s health services is badly needed but this looks like government spin from the government.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott.

“GPs across Shetland have already been asked to find £300,000 of savings. Our health board have said they must make £3.9 million of savings – a nine per cent cut.

“And the director of the joint integration board responsible for health and social care in Shetland says that it will be extremely difficult to find savings.

“Any suggestion that all is well or there is new money when NHS Shetland are openly saying how tough things are is difficult to understand.

“We all depend on the ability, professionalism and dedication of nurses, GPs, consultants and health staff. On their behalf we need to ensure that our health service is properly funded and not cut as NHS Shetland say.”

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Kinniburgh said he was content that the share of health spending Shetland receives is “within the one per cent of the allocation from the formula”, but he still believes there is a case to alter how that formula is applied to the islands.

“The relatively small scale of Shetland means that some of the baseline assumptions, when you get down to very small numbers, our fixed costs are pretty much the same regardless of the size of the organisation, so proportionately have a much bigger impact on us,” he added.

“We still think there are potentially things about the way we do business in Shetland that aren’t necessarily fully taken into consideration in the formula.”

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