£133 million buget gap will cut into 'muscle' of NHS Lothian services

Sweeping cuts are on the way for health services as NHS Lothian looks to close a £133 million budget gap.
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Dealing with the eye-watering shortfall would involve cutting “into the muscle” of the health service and lead to longer waiting lists, staff reductions, cancelled operations, less money for medicines and make it even harder to see a GP, it was warned.

It is the “tightest financial situation” the organisation has faced in decades and comes after the Scottish Government announced a two-year freeze on any new capital funding for health boards.

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This has cast doubt over the future of Edinburgh’s replacement eye hospital and new cancer centre at the Western General, as well as plans for a new treatment centre at St John’s in Livingston — projects regarded as vital to cope with the region’s rapidly growing population.

NHS Lothian needs to close a £133 million budget gap.NHS Lothian needs to close a £133 million budget gap.
NHS Lothian needs to close a £133 million budget gap.

Representing seven per cent of the overall budget, the £133m gap in 2024/25 is more than double the three per cent saving usually required by NHS Lothian, having increased following the Scottish Government’s budget announcement in December.

Health chiefs said arriving at a balanced financial position was vital in order to be at the “front of the queue” when the government resumes spending on new hospitals and treatment centres.

Addressing board members last week, director of finance Craig Marriott said a 0 per cent uplift in funding delivered by the government’s settlement would mean no new money for drugs, growth or additional procedures.

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He said: “We’ve not been in that position before where we’ve not had any uplift.”

He added the board was also expecting no additional funding for “small scale” projects such as GP practices. Funding for maintaining existing hospitals and medical centres would also need to be “spread much further”.

Mr Marriot added: “We can’t kid ourselves on that this is all going to be delivered through efficiencies.

“This will be about cutting into the muscle; this won’t be about small scale things that won’t have an impact.”

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NHS Lothian chief executive Calum Campbell said the plan to bridge the gap, which will come forward next month, would contain “things a lot of us will not like”.

Councillor Stephen Jenkinson, Edinburgh City Council’s representative on the board, pointed out 84 per cent of Scotland’s population growth over the next ten years will be in the Lothians.

He added: “When the Scottish Government removes capital funding and essentially forces the board to accept a £133m cut to its 24/25 budget, what does this actually mean?

“It means there won’t be a new eye hospital, a new treatment centre at St John’s, cancer centre at the Western General and an expansion of the Royal Edinburgh hospital.

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“And there won’t be any new GP surgeries built – and that is just capital spend.

“The drugs budget will be cut, surgeries will be cancelled, waiting times will increase and seeing a GP will become even harder.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is providing over £14.2 billion for NHS Boards in 2024-25.

“NHS Boards are under unprecedented pressure as a result of inflation, Brexit and Covid and we are continuing to work with each Board to recover and reform services.”