NHS Tayside has improved its financial management and saved more than £14 million in the last financial year, but risks related to its high running costs are still a worry, a watchdog has said. 

A report from Audit Scotland found £14.3 million of recurring savings had been made at the board in 2019-20, which is 40 per cent of the total funding gap it currently faces.

Last year it was forced to seek a £7 million bailout from the Scottish Government for the eighth year in a row.

Auditors have called the current financial position of the board "not sustainable", and claimed changes to the delivery of services have been “too slow”.

The health board has improved waiting times for some services however, including positive moves to improve mental health services after a highly critical independent report.

READ MORE: Progress at NHS Tayside but 'risks remain' says watchdog

However, the board needed £7 million from the Scottish Government in 2019/20 to break even, the eighth year in a row it has required financial assistance.

According to Audit Scotland, NHS Tayside now needs to continue to show progress. 

The report also highlights NHS Tayside's expensive operating model, spending more on staffing, in-patient costs and prescriptions than the Scottish average.

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland said: "NHS Tayside has made some clear progress under its new leadership team after a number of very challenging years, but it still faces a number of risks.

"The board knows that achieving financial stability lies in changing the way its services are designed and delivered. We've already seen how Covid-19 has accelerated innovation in some areas. It's now essential that NHS Tayside builds on that good work and increases the pace of change in priority services."  

NHS Tayside chief executive Grant Archibald said: “This report covers the last financial year up to March 2020 and signals a sustainable improvement across the board in terms of both our financial position and, importantly, service performance for our patients.”

Mr Archibald said the board is on track to break even in the next three financial years, according to its own projections.

However, the projections were made before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and Audit Scotland said the board will “revisit” its financial plan “later in the year”.

Mr Archibald also praised the work of staff, saying: “Their efforts have never been so important nor so critical to the people of Tayside than in the last nine months and I would like to take this further opportunity to thank all of them for their ongoing hard work.

“Our priority, of course, remains the immediate response to Covid-19, particularly as we are now entering winter and the additional pressures that introduces into our already extremely busy hospitals and community care settings.

“However, the progress we have made over the past two years means that we are confident we are best placed to look ahead and plan for the medium and long-term response to the pandemic – and the important transformation of services that will be required across health and social care services in Scotland.”

In February 2021 the Auditor General will publish his annual NHS in Scotland report, which will comment more widely on how prepared the NHS in Scotland was for a pandemic, how it responded and the challenges that lie ahead.