THE former chief executive of troubled NHS Tayside went on sick leave the day after being told she could not continue in her role, MSPs have been told.

NHS Scotland chief executive Paul Gray said Lesley McLay had not been dismissed by the health board, although she was no longer chief executive.

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He added that she "doesn't have a job" with the board at the moment, because she has been signed off sick.

She was replaced as chief executive of the NHS board - which has been bailed out with £45 million of Scottish Government loans in recent years and will require a further £12.7 million for 2017-18 - in April, after Health Secretary Shona Robison described her position as "untenable".

After hearing that Ms McLay could return to another position when she is medically fit and well, former health secretary Alex Neil claimed there was a "two-tier system" operating in the NHS.

The SNP MSP said: "It seems to me we have got two-tier system where if you are in a senior position, even if you have not done the job properly in the view of senior management of the board, you can get another position.

"But if you are down the line, if you are a porter or a nurse, that doesn't happen to you, you are off the premises more or less right away.

"That's not the right way to run a health service, is it?"

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Mr Neil pressed the NHS Scotland chief executive on the issue as MSPs on Holyrood's Public Audit Committee continued their scrutiny of the health service in Tayside.

Ms Robison was forced to intervene in the running of the board after it emerged cash from public donations had been used to fund new technology.

Meanwhile a separate review found it had "misrepresented" its financial performance by "holding" £5.3 million of government funding for eHealth initiatives.

Mr Gray confirmed to MSPs he met Ms McLay on Thursday April 5 to tell her the Scottish Government was increasing its intervention in the running of the board.

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At this point he said she was unable to remain as chief executive as her "accountable officer status would be removed".

He added: "That doesn't cause her to cease to be an employee of NHS Tayside. It stops her being chief executive."

Mr Gray continued: "The morning of the following day, that is the Friday, the medical director of NHS Tayside Dr Andrew Russell contacted me to say that Ms McLay had been to her doctor that morning and was signed off sick.

"When I spoke to her she wasn't off sick, but she was signed off sick by her doctor the following morning."

He stressed Ms McLay "remains an employee of NHS Tayside", although he said: "At the moment she doesn't have a job because she is off sick.

"But when she is able to return to work we will agree with her what her future employment status should be."

Mr Neil asked: "How do you get dismissed as chief executive and remain an employee? If anybody is dismissed from a job, you are dismissed."

Mr Gray told him: "If you are an employee of the NHS and you are taken through a disciplinary process and dismissed, that is quite a different thing from being told your accountable officer status is being taken away.

"Even if someone does go through a process it is not impossible for them to be offered another role, at a different level, elsewhere in the service."

He added: "It is important we go through a proper employment process with every employee."

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “This a shocking waste of money for a health board which is utterly strapped for cash.

“It’s hard to see how anyone can justify this when money is so tight and the health board is performing so poorly.

“Patients and hardworking staff in Tayside will be absolutely furious at this situation.”