Christine Hall: The watchdog who nipped the ankles of Fife Health Board
If anyone ever collated a roll call of the redoubtable individuals who have rattled cages, Christine Hall would surely be near the top.
She didn’t just chair Kirkcaldy District Health Council – she WAS the organisation.
Throughout the 1980s she was a thorn in the flesh of many health board managers and senior officers as she held them to account, which, perhaps, explains why they were more than happy to try to get rid of her in 1988.
Back then, Fife Health Board ran health services in the Kingdom. Mrs Hall had been in the hot seat since the watchdog’s creation in 1975, and never shied away from speaking her mind when it came to any shortcomings in healthcare in Fife. She ruffled more than a few feathers at corporate level.
The watchdog’s monthly meetings were far livelier than those of the health board where everything was passed or noted with minimal comment, which was rather remarkable when you consider the organisation had a penchant for changing its well paid general managers on a regular basis. Back then the board was also over budget, facing strike action and wrestling with – and often making a mess of – key decisions to cut or close services.
And everywhere it turned, it encountered the razor sharp views of Mrs Hall.
So, when she went private for surgery, her critics made their move.
A personal decision became political, and so began a bid to get rid of her that turned into a four-month spat.
It started in May when Mrs Hall’s operation became front page news.
Faced with what she felt was an “intrusion” into her private affairs, she said she would stand down with immediate effect, stating: “I did this rather than suffer persistent discomfort, knowing the length of time one has to wait for a bed in the health service in Fife. The decision I made serves to highlight what the council has been saying for years, that waiting lists are far too long.”
But, within hours, came the first twist – it emerged that Kirkcaldy District Council’s environmental health committee had not included her in the list of nominees to be part of the watchdog.
Instead the committee had nominated councillors James Ferguson, Fraser Ballantyne, Christine May, Hazel Weierter, Brian Neil and Ann Watters.
And then things became rather farcical.
A fortnight later, Levenmouth based organisation ALPHA – the Association Linking Parents & Handicapped Adults – tried to put her back on the council, but its nomination was ruled invalid by the board because, it claimed, the group was not on its list of organisations eligible to put forward candidates.
The board said it had no knowledge of any link between ALPHA and Parents and Children Together (PACT) which had previously been part of the council but couldn’t get anyone to take on the role.
All of this left retiring member Robert Ireland, bemused:“I thought it was clearly understood ALPHA was now represented. How the board got me into PACT I will never know, and to insist I represented it is absolute nonsense.”
Elections for office- bearers on the health council were then delayed while the mess was sorted out.
The board strongly denied wanting Mrs Hall out – her supporters argued otherwise – but came under pressure to re-think its stance.
Elections of office bearers were put on hold until the matter was resolved, and Mrs Hall duly bounced back as a committee member, this time with the backing of Cystic Fibrosis, Kirkcaldy.
And she was immediately voted back in as chairman!
Two days later she was ousted again as the health board deemed the appointment to be “illegal” – a move her supporters branded a “vindictive backlash”.
But health bosses hadn’t seen the back of their nemesis.
She returned to chair the council, and when the health board faced spending cuts of some £250,000 it was promptly taken to task once more by the woman more than a few senior executives wanted rid of.
Mrs Hall outlasted more than one general manager and chairman in those days, and stuck to her guns at all times – exactly how a watchdog should be. Little wonder the matter was resolved by eventually abolishing the council altogether ...