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Health board seeking new nurse to look after Fair Isle's 60-strong population

| Written by Neil Riddell

THE REMOTE island of Fair Isle is on the lookout for a new district nurse to take care of the 60-strong population’s medical needs - one of a host of NHS Shetland vacancies at present.

NHS Shetland's chief nurse Edna Mary Watson said there had been a resident nurse on Fair Isle throughout the time that she has worked for the health board.

With the resident nurse having left the island, the NHS is hoping to find a fresh face to take on the role of being Fair Isle’s only resident healthcare provider.

She said the post required quite a broad range of skills as the district nurse is the first point of contact in any emergency, whether “something simply, like someone who’s cut their finger, or someone who’s got a cardiac arrest, or been in a road traffic accident”.

GPs visit the island on a six-weekly basis but “often that can be hampered by the weather”, while specialists such as physios tend to go in on an “as-needs basis”.

While catering for a population of only 60 means the district nurse will not be busy 24/7, they are responsible for things like managing patients’ long-term conditions, which would ordinarily be carried out by a practice nurse in Levenwick. 

Watson said it was becoming “more challenging” to find the right people for such posts because “the profession has developed – we’re now training in quite specialist areas”.

“What you need for a place like Fair Isle is people with a broad range of skills, so you need an experienced practitioner who has done a variety of different things, who’s also very confident at managing situations on the initial presentation until they can seek further advice and guidance via a GP,” she said.

Watson said the job was as much about adapting to the lifestyle as having the right skills.

Following the 24 April deadline, NHS Shetland plans to conduct the interview process over a period of two or three days to allow time to visit Fair Isle, meet the residents and get a sense of what is involved.

She told BBC Radio Shetland that the health board is looking at the possibility of finding a different model of providing the district nurse service in outlying islands – with one possibility that nurses based on the Shetland mainland could be sent in for a week at a time rather than being permanently resident.

Meanwhile, NHS Shetland is also looking to recruit three full-time GPs – two for posts in Lerwick that were previously advertised and remain unfilled, and one in Bixter where the current GP is moving away from Shetland, with the post becoming vacant on 1 June.

NHS Shetland primary healthcare manager Lisa Watt said that with a national GP recruitment crisis, it was “not unusual to have to advertise” several times before filling posts.

“We’re doing everything we can to promote Shetland as a place to come,” she said. “We’re getting good support from members of the public, sharing posts on Facebook, and we hope that we will be able to reach a wide pool of people.

“Obviously Shetland is a beautiful place to live and work, it’s a really good standard of living, and there’s a lot of interest in Shetland because of the [crime drama] TV programme.”

She added that word of mouth was “really important”, that people often tell their colleagues about jobs becoming available and “we’d very much encourage that to continue.” 

Last month the health board publicised a trio of GP vacancies in Yell and Unst as it seeks to fill roles that have been carried out by locums since the autumn.

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