Published: 15/01/2004, Volume II4, No. 5888 Page 9

A cash-strapped Scottish NHS board has defended its financial position after the auditor general warned that it could be 'impossible' for it to pull out of deficit.

NHS Argyll and Clyde told HSJ its recovery plans were robust, it was on course to save£13.2m in this financial year alone and did not expect to be bailed out by the Scottish Executive.

Audit Scotland's Overview of the NHS in Scotland 2002-03, published last month, predicted that NHS Argyll and Clyde could have a cumulative deficit of£60-70m by 2007-08.

Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's audit committee last week, auditor general Robert Black said: 'It might be very difficult, if not impossible, to recover the position.'

And deputy auditor general Caroline Gardner told the committee that the financial targets were 'challenging'. She added:

'The bodies [in Argyll and Clyde] have got a record of finding it difficult to achieve, in practice, the savings'.

But NHS Argyll and Clyde corporate communications manager Judith Keenan said the Audit Scotland report only showed a 'snapshot.'

'At that time there were four NHS bodies and now We are working under a single system.

We recognise that the financial challenge we have is significant, but do believe that our plans are robust enough to recover, ' Ms Keegan said.

As well as the£13.2m savings this year, NHS Argyll and Clyde expects to save£10m in this financial year and£10m the following year.

Any hopes that financial problems would be solved by one-off payments were dashed last Friday when health minister Malcolm Chisholm announced the board allocations for 2004-05.

Across Scotland, the average increase is 7.25 per cent and Argyll and Clyde gets a 6.98 per cent uplift, taking its budget to£459m.

Ms Keenan said the board had not expected special treatment.