NHS boss says tragic death of daughter qualifies him to run health service


THE controversial boss of a Scottish NHS board has said the tragic death of his daughter helped qualify him to run health services.

Brian Houston – the new chairman of troubled NHS Lothian – has faced criticism over his lack of experience in the health sector.

But the management consultant, who is also a non-executive director of Hibs, said the cancer death of his daughter had given him “personal experience”.

Only 10 NHS managers from outside Lothian were bothered to take the course.

NHS Lothian has been rocked damning reports of bullying and manipulation of waiting time figures.

Mr Houston, 64, who is paid £40,000 for a three-day week, vowed  to get the organisation back on track when he was appointed in April.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie called his appointment a “strange decision”.

But at a board meeting this week Mr Houston revealed he had been asked: “Why are you here?”

After mentioning his ties to Edinburgh, the fact he saw the NHS as a “pillar” of society, and his background in changing large organisations, Mr Houston said: “Four years ago, my daughter died of a very obscure cancer.

“She spent several months in the Western General Hospital [in Edinburgh] and went through very serious treatment.

“She spent several more in St John’s Hospital [in Livingston, West Lothian].

“I don’t have much professional experience, but I do have personal experience of the NHS.”

Mr Houston was not available yesterday to expand on his comments but public records show his daughter, Emma, a mother of one, died in October 2008 aged 35, the day after she got married.

The second of his four children, she married Luke McKinna (corr) on 16 October, and died the following day, records show.

Emma, who lived in Pilrig Street, Edinburgh, worked as a financial organisation project manager.

Her cause of death was listed as epiglottis carcinoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma – both forms of throat cancer.


Mr Houston’s heartfelt comments appeared to help win over his critics.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said after his speech that she was glad he understood the scale of the task of solving the health board’s problems.

She added: “NHS Lothian has trust to rebuild and needs to dramatically improve its services.

“We need a board which is fully engaged and I hope that the new chair focuses on patients and patient care – something which seems to be lacking from what he sees as the task ahead of him.”

Tory MSP and health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “We applaud the idea that those from outside the circle can come in and lend their wider experience of running organisations effectively, rather than just running a health board.

“And goodness knows, NHS Lothian could do with being run effectively.”


  1. This issue is an awful example of political point scoring by Ms Baillie. As a non executive, Mr Houston’s lack of specific health sector experience is irrelevant. But the fact that this so called journalist has gone looking through the death records and newspaper archives for proof (?) and salacious detail of his daughter’s death is quite, quite sickening. Good luck to Mr Houston, I hope the politicians and media leave him alone to do his job.

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