THE FINANCIAL constraints affecting health and social care in Shetland reared their head again as the isles' integration joint board (IJB) agreed to fund a falls prevention programme for the next three years.
Plans to roll out the strength and exercise programme Otago in Shetland were signed off at the IJB's latest meeting on Thursday.
But the approval came after suggestions that the decision on pledging £51,000 to fund a three-year co-ordinator post for the programme should be delayed until there was a clearer picture of the IJB's 2018/19 budget.
IJB chief financial officer Karl Williamson told members on Thursday that NHS Shetland has an overall savings target of £3.441 million for the next financial year - but that is only because the board decided to reduce its general contingency budget from two per cent to one per cent.
But NHS Shetland's draft budget could still change as negotiations with the Scottish Government continue, with the value of pay award increases currently unclear.
The Otago programme has already been used in Unst and Yell, with allied health professions manager Jo Robinson saying it had produced "very positive results".
She said the programme - designed for people vulnerable to falling - is currently ongoing in Yell with 27 participants, but over 30 people weren't able to take part due to the high demand.
Carers' representative Jim Guyan said he took part in the programme when it was trialled in Unst last year and added that a rejuvenated participant "threw away" a walking staff after being on the scheme for eight weeks.
The current post finishes at the end of March and Robinson was seeking IJB approval to appoint a co-ordinator for three years to carry it on across the isles.
There was widespread support from the scheme from IJB members but a note of caution was sounded over finance.
The money would come from the IJB's general reserve balance of £125,000, with NHS Shetland chief executive Ralph Roberts warning that supporting the programme would mean "limiting" choices in the next financial year.
Councillor Stephen Leask, however, said the programme could save money by reducing hospital admissions.
"There could be huge savings," he said.
Chief officer Simon Bokor-Ingram suggested members could defer the decision briefly to allow Williamson and NHS Shetland finance director Colin Marsland to discuss how the financial picture will look for 2018/19.
Chairwoman Marjorie Williamson warned that there "will be a vast amount of savings needed next year".
But councillor member Robbie McGregor proposed that the IJB go ahead and fund the co-ordinator post now - with vice-chairman Allison Duncan seconding.