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New Highland health boss has 'a mountain to climb', says Fernie

By Gordon Calder

Iain Stewart is moving on from NHS Highland to take an executive role within NHS Orkney. Picture: Callum Mackay
Iain Stewart is moving on from NHS Highland to take an executive role within NHS Orkney. Picture: Callum Mackay

THE new chief executive of NHS Highland will have "a mountain to climb" in a post which was described today as "a hot potato" by Bill Fernie, the chairman of Caithness Health Action Team (Chat).

Mr Fernie was speaking after it was announced that Iain Stewart, who had been in the job for just over a year, is to take on a similar role in Orkney and is being replaced by Paul Hawkins, who was seconded from NHS Fife this week as interim chief executive.

The move takes place against a background of financial difficulties at the Highland health authority and allegations of bullying which were the subject of a independent review by John Sturrock QC.

Mr Fernie said: "There have been a number of changes in senior management at NHS Highland recently and now we have another big change with the chief executive, Iain Stewart, moving to Orkney after just over a year in the job. That does not give a strong sense of leadership in the health authority.

"I feel this decision has been made by Jeane Freeman [Scotland's health secretary], who appoints all chief executives in Scotland. There have been some successes but the board is not achieving all the things it needed to do to get its budget in better shape.

"I think the changes were not happening fast enough for the minister. NHS Highland is worse than most of the other health boards, according to its budget."

Bill Fernie of Caithness Health Action Team.
Bill Fernie of Caithness Health Action Team.

Mr Fernie described the chief executive's role as "a hot potato".

He said: "There is no way this is an easy job. It is very, very difficult to make the savings required. The new guy has a mountain to climb.

"Iain Stewart dealt with groups like Chat extremely well and saw us on more than one occasion and took on board what we were saying, but not that much changed with regard to the maternity situation in Caithness. We are still looking to get major changes but they cost money and NHS Highland is in a difficult position with its budget unless the Scottish Government makes some intervention."

NHS Highland confirmed Mr Stewart will be moving on from his role as chief executive of NHS Highland to take an executive role within NHS Orkney and thanked him for his "valued contribution".

Mr Stewart praised his colleagues for "their hard work and dedication" and said it had been "an absolute pleasure" working there.

"I know as a board we have had our challenges but I firmly believe the work that has been put in towards our culture programme and financial recovery has contributed to making this an organisation we can all be proud of," he said. "I leave with fond memories."

Mr Hawkins was seconded to NHS Highland as interim chief executive as from Monday. He has been chief executive at NHS Fife for the past five years. Before that he was chief operating officer at Hywel Dda University Health Board in Wales.

"He brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge of the National Health Service," a health board spokesman said.

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