Health boss hits out at Tories over risk claims

John Raine, chairman of NHS Borders.
John Raine, chairman of NHS Borders.

The chairman of NHS Borders this week accused Tory polticians of using “historic and unqualified data” to make a political point – only to be told that the data came from the trust itself.

As reported in last week’s Southern, Borders MP John Lamont and MSP Rachael Hamilton used data taken from a freedom-of-information reply by the NHS to attack the Scottish Government over lack of funding.

They claimed that at the Borders General Hospital in Melrose “some theatres and equipment are badly in need of repair, which will certainly be a factor in some of the cancellations (of operations)” – a claim denied by Cliff Sharp, medical director at NHS Borders.

This week, their claims that health centres are facing high-risk building deficiencies have been refuted as “alarmist” and “based on historic and unqualified data” by NHS Borders chairman John Raine, in a strongly worded response to the two Tories.

Recording his “disquiet and disappointment”, Mr Raine said: “I well understand the politics behind these issues and do not presume to judge your right to press governments for more investment in health services.

“However, I believe such campaigning loses credibility and authority, and is indeed alarmist, when it is based on historic and unqualified data.

“It serves only to unnecessarily undermine public confidence and cause concern to those you acknowledge as our ‘incredibly hard-working staff’.”

In a response to Mr Raine’s letter, a spokesperson for Mr Lamont and Mrs Hamilton said: “The information reported on last week was provided to us by NHS Borders in a freedom-of-information response dated May 12, 2017.

“This response makes it clear that the health board, hard-working staff and patients are being let down by a lack of investment from the SNP Government.

“The release of this information was in no way intended to undermine the incredible work of staff in the Borders but highlighted a continued lack of resources that health boards across Scotland are suffering from.”

And in a letter to the chairman, the two parliamentarians stated: “I note that since then, some improvements have been made, but the majority of the work you mention in your letter was completed before the response we received from you.

“If that information was out of date, then that would appear to have been a mistake by your FOI department.”

Mr Raine says he would welcome a chance to meet to discuss the issues.

He added that NHS Borders has benefited from a £3m government capital allocation to upgrade health centres.

He said: “This, together with our own allocated funding, has enabled the health board to embark on a total £6.5mprimary care modernisation programme which has seen a new health centre open last month at Roxburgh Street in Galashiels, the completion of improvements to Selkirk and Eyemouth health centres, and work due to start on the upgrading of Melrose health centre later this year.

“In addition, plans to upgrade West Linton and Earlston health centres are in the early development stages.”

He added: “I want to assure you that Borders Health Board gives assiduous attention to the prioritisation of capital spending and that patient and staff safety will always be our priority.”

Mr Lamont and Mrs Hamilton said that they would ‘cc’ NHS Borders communications department with all future press releases – a gesture which they say is not offered to any other third party organisation.