‘Total incompetence’ led to doubled payoff for ex-health board boss


A former NHS Tayside boss was given double the payoff she was entitled to because of the “total incompetence” of the assistant chief executive, MSPs have learned.

A settlement payment of more than £64,000 to former chief executive Lesley McLay was in lieu of six months’ notice, despite only having three in her contract.

The payoff came under intense scrutiny at the Scottish Parliament’s audit committee, where Scotland’s auditor general gave evidence about the struggling health board.

Addressing MSPs, Caroline Gardner said: “There was real confusion in the advice given to the acting chief executive and chair about the notice period which was relevant to the former chief executive.

“Her contract clearly stated that she was on three months’ notice.”

She explained that, because of advice from the health board’s assistant chief executive, Ms McLay was awarded six months’ cash and her contract amended months after she had left the role.

“My report identifies that the person providing advice (about the severance pay) to the interim chief executive and interim chair was the assistant chief executive,” she said.

Assistant chief executive and strategic director of workforce at NHS Tayside Dr Annie Ingram – who is still in the post – was unable to justify the decision, according to auditors.

Ms Gardner revealed three other Scottish NHS board bosses have three-month notice periods and said: “The assistant chief executive wasn’t able to provide the auditor with evidence for why she believed the notice period be six months rather than three months.”

Former health secretary Alex Neil was incredulous at the auditor general’s suggestion the payoff was due to “a misunderstanding”.

Mr Neil said: “The director of workforce – supposed to be the person who is the professional in relation to contracts and employment.

“It’s not just confusion, it’s total incompetence if she changes the period of the contract and doesn’t even check.”

Alex Neil MSP
Alex Neil MSP

He added: “Is it not time we introduced some sanctions for such poor governance, because the poor taxpayer is picking up the tab every time for this and they are fed up to the back teeth with people on film-star salaries getting film-star severance payments and particularly where it would appear they’re not even entitled to it?”

The auditor general gave evidence following her report warning urgent action is needed to tackle the worsening performance and financial problems at NHS Tayside.

The health board achieved just seven out of 20 national standards in March 2018 – down from from nine the previous year.

It is also facing a potential budget deficit of £18.7 million for 2018-19 despite receiving £50.2 million of Scottish Government brokerage loans in the last six years.

The Scottish Government was forced to intervene in the running of the board earlier this year after it emerged cash from public donations had been used to fund new technology.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman’s announcement that outstanding loans to NHS boards will be written off at the end of the year “reduces the pressure” on the board but “does not address the underlying financial problems”, Ms Gardner said.

Previous reports by the spending watchdog have “highlighted the expensive operating model in NHS Tayside compared to other NHS boards”, with this described as a “main contributory factor” to its financial difficulties.