Scotland politics

Scots health boards urged to make up to 3% savings

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has warned that health boards will have to make 2.5% to 3% in efficiency savings next year.

She revealed the target during questioning from MSPs on Holyrood's Health and Sport Committee.

The Scottish government has pledged to protect NHS spending.

However, Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said Ms Sturgeon's talk of efficiency savings seemed to be a "code for cutting nurses".

She added: "Despite promising to protect the frontline, the SNP government has cut almost 2,000 nurses.

"I think the clear message from Nicola Sturgeon is that, as the SNP's £319m NHS budget cuts begin to bite, there will be even more pain to come for our NHS. I fear these cuts will cause patient care to suffer."

In evidence to the health committee, Ms Sturgeon said health boards needed to continue to balance the books and provide good financial management in the next few years.

MSPs have been examining the Scottish government's 2012/13 budget and the three-year spending review.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: "The overarching responsibility on health boards, beyond meeting any particular yearly targets, is to be as efficient in the delivery of healthcare services as they can be, and that is an ongoing requirement.

Her call for efficiency savings follows the government's commitment to protect health boards' budgets for the delivery of services, in real terms, over the next three years.

Asked if health boards would be free to pursue their own efficiency agendas without political interference, Ms Sturgeon said: "I don't accept that health boards are subject to political interference for its own sake.

"We have in place in the health service fairly sound, fairly robust, fairly well used processes when a health board wants to change service provision.

"I'll continue to apply those processes in a way that I consider to be appropriate. I don't think it would be right to issue any blanket edicts that either say health boards can't change services, end of story, or on the other hand health boards have a free hand to do whatever they like."

She added: "I have been very clear and will continue to be clear that this involves stiff challenges for health boards that they need to manage that with their eye very clearly on quality of care."

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