The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands)
Trips a chance to learn, says trust
Thirty-five NHS Highland staff travelled to North America and Europe for training and development courses and conferences between July 2016 and the end of February this year.
Of these staff members, 28 travelled to destinations in Europe while seven jetted off to the USA.
The trips were taken despite the board’s finances coming under the microscope in recent years, with it regularly battling overspends and being forced to seek a £15 million loan from the Scottish Government this year to break even.
However, an NHS Highland spokesman last night defended the trips as a way to ensure that the board “learns from industry experts” and “delivers and sustain high- quality services” for the people of the Highlands.
The North America links have been controversial since the board provoked fury in 2012 by sending directors to Seattle for two one-week periods to learn about saving money at the Virginia Mason Medical Centre.
The latest figures have emerged after The Press and Journal asked NHS Highland for details of all staff travel costing more than £100 since July 2016.
As well as repeated trips to Salt Lake City, the trips to the USA included two senior managers and one board member visiting Orlando in December for a six-day trip, costing £1,748.1 in flights and £1,300.01 for hotels.
This was to attend the International Institute of Healthcare Improvement Forum, where thousands of delegates gather to meet and learn from each other and experts in various healthcare fields.
An NHS Highland spokesman said trips to Seattle and Toronto in recent years have been undertaken to learn about “evidence-based” quality improvement in health and adult social care, to make
“If they can’t supply the details... that smacks of loose management”
better use of resources as part of the board’s “lean approach”.
He said that, since the original training in Seattle in 2012, they have been able to train 33 members of staff and another 20 are in training and that “hundreds” have had basic, intermediate or advanced training.
The spokesman also highlighted links to Alaska as part of a programme to recruit and retain healthcare professionals in rural areas.
In one case, NHS staff learned about a community-owned healthcare model and adopted it in the Small Isles by training people there as health and social care support workers, supported by visiting GPs.
The health board was unable to provide specific information on the purpose of an eightday trip to Atlanta in December, or a week-long trip to Portland in Maine or the European trips.
Chat chairman Bill Fernie, a former budget leader at Highland Council, said it was “surprising” NHS Highland was unable to provide full details on the trips, adding: “If they can’t supply the details of these trips, then that smacks of loose management.”
Mr Fernie said there is enough information about lean management online and through management courses run by universities within the UK and enough opportunity to benefit from shared learning from other local government bodies.
However, the NHS Highland spokesman said there are no university courses at present which cover the “type of lean production approach” that they are learning from abroad. He added that they are working with UHI to develop options for this.
Skye councillor and economist Ronald MacDonald, said that instead of travelling to Alaska it would have been “cheaper” and “more effective” looking towards the Isle of Lewis to understand how outof-hours cover could be better provided in Skye and Raasay. He said the health board should spend more time studying the areas it is trying to serve instead of devoting public funds to overseas trips of “dubious value.”
Three medical staff travelled to Amsterdam on three separate occasions, three senior managers also travelled to Copenhagen and Sonderborg in Denmark and another senior manager and medical staff member went again in November.