NEWS

Scotland's unified health boards will find it challenging to implement free personal care by April, particularly those negotiating with up to six local authorities, managers said last week.

The time required for meetings and other preparation means that the workload is significant, the Scottish Parliament's health and community care committee heard, while the issue of differing cultures between health and social work also needs to be tackled.

The committee heard from Neil McConnachie, chief excecutive of the Association of Health Board Chief Executives, and Douglas Phillips, its director of priority services and joint planning. Both men are with NHS Argyll and Clyde.

Mr McConnachie told MSPs:

'We are potentially uneasy about the target date of 2002. I am a believer that if you do not set a date, you do not make the same sort of progress. But There is some unease around that date.' He said health boards with just one local authority to deal with had an easier time.

His board, with five local authorities, had more of a challenge.

'It becomes a problem in sheer workload, ' he said. Mr Phillips added that everybody was starting from different baselines and were at different stages. There was also the issue of identifying different funding streams - some money for older people might come under the heading of mental health spending, for example.

Mr McConnachie said some employees at all levels might see their positions threatened. He said there was a need for retraining staff: 'Some may find themselves potentially displaced, but we do not want to lose people.

Maybe we can retrain them to fill the jobs there are.'

Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon said she was concerned that in their written submission, the managers had identified differences in culture and attitude between health and social services.

Mr McConnachie said it was important to identify obstacles so they could be tackled. He added:

'There is no way you can flick a finger and think that someone will behave the same way because it says so in a bill. It is about training.'

He said the health boards and local authorities were working on the issue.

Meanwhile, there is still a question mark over how the Scottish Executive will meet the current£20m shortfall in the£145m needed to fund personal care.

Negotiations to persuade Whitehall to transfer cash which would otherwise be paid in attendance allowance are on-going.

Deputy health minister Malcolm Chisholm said other options to find the shortfall would have to be considered if negotiations with Westminster broke down.