New NHS Borders boss is up for the challenge

The new chair of NHS Borders says she won’t ‘run away from a challenge’ as she starts work on rescuing the board from financial ruin.

By Joseph Anderson
Friday, 2nd August 2019, 9:50 am
Karen hamilton is the new boss at NHS Borders
Karen hamilton is the new boss at NHS Borders

Karen Hamilton, 66, has stepped up to the plate following the resignation of John Raine in spring, and takes over at a time of considerable financial pressure on the board. 

Since the 2016/17 financial year, NHS Borders has recorded a rapidly increasing deficit, from £1.7m up to the £13.8m it stands at today.

Last year, the health board required a bail out from the Scottish Government of £10.3m, and this week it was confirmed it would receive another bail out this year of £9.3m, although this second bail out will need to be paid back.

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A condition of receiving the bail out is that NHS Borders must publish a three-year financial plan in October, which will bring them back to sustainability.

Asked what progress the board has made towards the three-year plan, Ms Hamilton said: “We are making really good strides towards it, but we still have lots of progress to make. 

“We have a lot of significant savings to make this year, and we’ve already made some. 

“I can’t tell you that we have achieved it as we have quite a lot of work to do, but there’ll be no stone left unturned, and the Scottish Government is content with the progress we’ve made so far. 

“I was not under any illusions when I applied to be chair and I have clear expectations about what we need to do.”

Although born in Sussex, the current Peebles resident started her career in healthcare in Aberdeen, where after starting a family she began working as a carer in a new care home. 

This started off a 30-year career in the healthcare sector. After acquiring a diploma in social work from Robert Gordon University in 1992, she moved on to Moray Council, before moving on to Highland Council where she headed up the care at home services. 

However, personal circumstances found her leaving her managerial position at Highland Council to move down to Peebles, where she was set on the path to becoming the new chair of NHS Borders: “My daughter married a chap from Peebles, and we spent an awful lot of time driving down to see them, but during those visits I fell in love with the area, and Peebles, and it just seemed like the right move. 

“After that I moved to NHS Borders to work in the Public Partnership Forum, which I had experience of at Moray Council. 

“Then a position opened up to become a non-executive director, and from there I’ve moved on to become chair.”

In her latest role as chair of NHS Borders Ms Hamilton has taken on a huge challenge, as last month, NHS Borders finance officers revealed the board was seeking to identify £12.7m of savings over the following year. 

Asked where she believes the savings will be made, Ms Hamilton said: “Our aim is to bring us back to financial balance. To be sustainable we need to work that out, financial sustainability means we no longer have any debt, and we have to identify £12.7m, but not make those savings, within the next 11 months. 

“We have made some considerable savings through the Borders General Hospital. 

“One of the main areas we’re looking at is prescription drugs, making sure we’re making the most of that budget, and we’ve made a lot of savings in pharmacy. 

“We’ve also made some interesting progress with an ideas ‘pipeline’, where staff are able to suggest their own ideas around working and efficiency in order to help us achieve financial stability.”

Furthermore, the health boards’ finances have faced additional pressure from a reliance on agency and locum spending on staff, which is forecast to cost an extra £5.7m this year than first envisioned.

Ms Hamilton continued: “Locums are an expensive part of our budget, but we have a very active recruitment team, and we are working very hard to bring skilled, permanent staff to the Borders.

“We’re trying to get the message out that the Borders is a good place to live and work. As we are a training hospital, we are also encouraging our trainees to come back to the Borders once they are qualified. 

“Workforce is one of our major, major expenditures and it’s something we need to get right.

“The biggest challenge we face is over the next few weeks where we’re trying to identify the £12.7m of savings we can make. 

“That will be a challenge and everyone I work with is working very hard towards that goal. 

“It is a challenge, and I’m not going to run away from that.”