ONE of Scotland’s largest health board’s is seeking a £23 million bailout from taxpayers after plunging into the red.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran blamed spiralling drug costs, agency spending and a spike in emergency admissions as it appealed to the Scottish Government for loan funding known as brokerage.

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Papers presented at its board meeting revealed that the health board had failed to deliver its savings targets and would end the 2017/18 financial year with a £23m deficit.

The Herald understands that one non-executive member of the board, whose role it is to hold senior managers to account, quit in anger after receiving the reports on Friday evening.

It is understood that the individual was unhappy at being given less than 72 hours to scrutinise the papers.

The reports disclose that the health board’s chief executive, John Burns, wrote to NHS Scotland’s director of finance, Christine Mclaughlin, on March 2 to request brokerage.

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Asked to comment on the move yesterday[mon], Mr Burns said the health board’s director of finance “reported throughout the financial year 2017-2018 that we would not balance our revenue budget”.

A financial management report dated March 20 notes that NHS Ayrshire and Arran has consistently had the highest rate of hospital admissions in Scotland for more than a decade, but emergency admissions are rising.

In February, there were an average of 151 emergency admissions per day - the third highest figure on record - and a year-on-year increase of three per cent.

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Acute services are under pressure to keep beds open even when funding for them has been axed “due to a high number of patients who are fit for discharge remaining in acute hospital beds and increasing emergency admissions”.

In February, 126 unfunded beds at Crosshouse and Ayr hospitals were used, and by the end of February the practice had cost £5.6m in total in 2017/18.

Overspending on nursing pay is a “major pressure”, costing an extra £7.5m, partly to cover high rates of sickness absence in some wards and to bring staffing numbers up to safe levels on wards where bed occupancy is “routinely” exceeding 95 per cent.

Since December 11 the health board has had to pay “escalated rates beyond budget” to the out-of-hours GP service, Ayrshire Doctors on Call, in order to ensure cover, and price spikes for some prescribed drugs which are currently in short supply was also described as “a particular concern”.

The request for brokerage comes after NHS Highland issued a plea in January for £15m of government loans, and just weeks after it emerged that NHS Tayside - which has received bailouts worth £37m since 2012 - would also miss its budget target for 2017/18 amid irregularities in its accounts.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it was delivering record health spending in 2018/19, including a year-on-year increase in funding of £400m.

She added: “We are working with boards to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to make best use of these available resources and we are kept informed of their forecast outturn throughout the course of the year.

“Brokerage requests represent less than 0.5 per cent of spend and are managed within our total health budget for the year. Our overriding priority is to ensure patients continue to receive first-class care, and we will confirm brokerage arrangements with boards by the end of this month.”