Scottish government urged to investigate NHS board's use of charitable funds

NHS Tayside has been criticised for using more than £2m from the Tayside Health Fund to pay for an IT system

Ninewells Hospital: part of NHS Tayside
Ninewells Hospital: part of NHS Tayside

The Scottish government is facing pressure to investigate a cash-strapped NHS board that used more than £2m of charitable funds to pay for an IT system.

The Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson tweeted yesterday that NHS Tayside's decision to "raid" money ring-fenced for non-essential hospital services was a "real shocker" and demanded an investigation.

Anas Sarwar, the Labour MSP for Glasgow, went further, describing the situation as an "absolute scandal", made worse by the fact that it had occurred in health secretary Shona Robison's constituency.

"The misuse of public donations given for things like children’s toys and for patient comforts is a complete breach of trust," Sarwar wrote on his Facebook page. "This requires an urgent investigation and heads to roll."

All members of NHS Tayside's board also serve as trustees of the Tayside NHS Board Endowment Funds, a charity known as Tayside Health Fund.

The Scottish newspaper The Herald revealed that, in 2013/14, when NHS Tayside faced a funding deficit, trustees of the endowment fund were asked to retrospectively fund projects worth £2.71m already approved by NHS Tayside.

A total of £2.3m of this was spent on an eHealth project that allowed GPs, dentists and opticians to electronically book and refer patients.

Professor John Connell, chairman of NHS Tayside, said in a statement that the projects "directly benefited patients" and "were appropriate for endowment funding".

But Connell, who was not a board member at the time, added: "The issue here that I would like further assurance on is the retrospective decision-making element, and this will form part of the planned, externally led review of NHS Tayside’s financial governance announced last week."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said it expected NHS Tayside's board to "consider their findings of the review carefully and comply fully with any recommendations"

She added: "NHS Scotland endowment funds operate within legal frameworks regulated by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, and the Scottish government expects trustees to comply with the requirements of the legislation."

An OSCR spokeswoman said it wrote to the chairs of all the NHS endowment fund charities in Scotland in 2012 "reminding them of the need for the charity trustees to act in line with their legal duties and to ensure that all expenditure was in furtherance of the charitable purposes of each charity".

She added: "In the specific case of the Tayside NHS Board Endowment Funds, we are considering the matter further."

Professor Alan Boyter, a retired NHS director who now runs his own HR consultancy, told Third Sector that the issue raised questions about whether an IT system that allows GPs to book patients was a core service or not.

Boyter said the case highlighted a "potential conflict of interest" when the same trustees were on the boards of the NHS and their endowment funds, which is a common occurrence in Scotland.

"Asking people to wear both hats at a time of significant pressure on resources is asking an awful lot," he said.

Boyter said these issues, along with the retrospective allocation of funds, needed to be looked at and suggested creating "clear blue water" between the two boards by including at least some different people on them.

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