THE DIFFICULTY in filling healthcare posts in Shetland has been reiterated after it emerged that only four applications were received for the isles' six vacant GP jobs from April last year to January.
Two salaried GP vacancies at Lerwick Health Centre and one at Bixter have been re-advertised eight times each since spring last year and as of early January they had only attracted two applications between them.
Posts in Yell and Unst have also been re-advertised eight times since going live in June, but they too only received one application each.
A similar vacancy for Walls, which has been re-advertised three times since being posted in November, attracted no applications in its first couple of months.
The Lerwick application was declined, while the other applications were deemed unsuitable. All of the posts remain vacant.
Figures, which come from a freedom of information request, show that only one GP post was re-advertised by NHS Shetland in 2016/17, while four were in the previous year.
Duties attached to the posts have been carried out by locum GPs in the meantime, but this is proving costly to a health board which needs to find millions of pounds in savings over the coming years.
If spending is maintained, NHS Shetland is on course to spend £1.3 million on locum GPs this financial year.
Chief executive Ralph Roberts said the health board has gone to the lengths of attending events on the mainland to speak to doctors who may be interested in working in an area like Shetland.
"We have had some interest shown following work we have been progressing with a recruitment firm and also meeting GPs at external events and conferences and talking to them about the opportunities that exist in Shetland," he said.
"We are currently actively following up this interest and supporting those who are potentially interested so that they can visit Shetland if they want and we can turn expressions of interest into definite applications/appointments.
"However, we still have significant work to do before we will have filled all the vacancies listed and we will need to continue to look at whether the way in which the posts are currently constructed will be attractive in the future."
The well-received Island Medics TV series was broadcast on BBC One in December to shed light on the work NHS staff does in the isles and it is hoped that it will have a positive impact on recruitment in the future.
Last year NHS Shetland agreed to adopt a more "flexible" approach to recruitment policy which would give potential employees a choice on the sort of job they want, taking into account things like location and working hours.
Roberts said it was too early to tell if Island Medics has had any effect on recruitment, partly as it is difficult to initially establish the reason behind applications.
"We did receive some positive initial interest around some trainee nurses and doctors looking to come to Shetland, but we will need to give this time before we can really evidence anything," he said.
Local firm NB Communication recently took on the Promote Shetland contract and they have assisted the health board with creating a greater digital pull when it comes to recruitment.
"We launched a dedicated Island Medics page on the Shetland.org website with the aim of encouraging suitably qualified medical professionals to consider moving to Shetland," said managing director David Nicol.
"The campaign page featured video clips, interviews, a selection of current NHS Shetland job vacancies and a general overview of life here in the islands. It is very encouraging to see that those who subscribed to the mailing list on the page are from a wide range of medical backgrounds, and many have qualifications matching current local needs.
"We are now sending out monthly newsletters which highlight relevant local vacancies and provide other useful background information about life in Shetland. Our expectation is that, over time, these ongoing communication should encourage more applications for vacancies here in the islands."