THE new chief executive of NHS Highland has pledged to bring "world-class health and social care" to the north of Scotland.

Iain Stewart has been appointed to replace Elaine Mead, who stepped down on December 31 after nearly nine years in the post.

Mr Stewart's appointment comes at a troubled time for the health board, with a QC-led inquiry currently underway into claims from senior clinicians that NHS Highland has been blighted by a culture of bullying and harassment "emanating from the very top".

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It is also facing a projected budget shortfall of £19.9m for 2018/19, and a critical external review in July 2018 recommended that the board's leadership undergo formal training to improve how they govern.

Mr Stewart, who is originally from Stornoway and lives on the Black Isle, will leave his current post as deputy chief of commissioning of the NHS Mid-Nottinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Groups to take up the new role at NHS Highland.

The post of chief executive at NHS Highland is being filled on an interim basis by Dr Gregor Smith, the deputy chief medical officer for Scotland.

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Mr Stewart, who has held a number of senior NHS positions in England and Wales, said: “I have provided senior operational and transformational leadership to various NHS organisations, managing multiple acute hospitals, mental health, community and strategic commissioning throughout England and North Wales.

"It is now time for me to consolidate these experiences and, together, I believe we can continue to build a world class health and social care service for the north of Scotland.”

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Health secretary Jeane Freeman said: “I am pleased that Iain Stewart has accepted the role of chief executive of NHS Highland.

"He has important experience in the public sector, including the health service, and I wish him well in this critical leadership role."

NHS Highland chair, David Alston, added: “I am delighted that Iain has accepted this appointment. He brings a passion for the NHS and for improvement, and a personal commitment to the Highlands and its people.”