NHS SHETLAND has received a glowing report from Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon after a day of long distance meetings with staff, management and users of the service.
Ms Sturgeon postponed her plans to visit Shetland on Wednesday, instead arriving via videolink to hold sessions with the health board as well as patient groups, staff and clinicians as part of the service’s annual review.
Afterwards board chairman Ian Kinniburgh described it as “a very positive experience” for the board as it faces up to tough times ahead over public spending cuts.
Ms Sturgeon herself said: “I am very pleased indeed with the performance of NHS Shetland. It has worked hard to reduce waiting times and hospital infection rates and its health improvement figures on smoking cessation and alcohol brief interventions are among the best in Scotland. All those involved should be congratulated.
“All NHS boards are facing difficult times but the work Shetland has done puts it in a good position to face up to the challenges ahead.”
The health secretary was very complimentary about the staff and paid tribute to the work of outgoing chief executive Sandra Laurenson, who takes early retirement before Christmas to care for her frail mother.
Shetland has recorded the lowest smoking rates and the highest level of breast feeding in Scotland, and has met its waiting list and cancer diagnosis targets year on year while recording zero health care acquired infections and 100 per cent dental registration for infants, if not for adults.
It has also earned praise for its joint working with other agencies, notably the new care facility at Lerwick’s Montfield Hospital, which is being run by Shetland Islands Council in an NHS-owned building.
Ms Sturgeon said that she had received “extremely positive” feedback from patients, around whom the entire service is meant to be designed.
The one query still surrounds Lerwick Health Centre where there have been complaints for years about the length of time it takes for people to see a GP.
Ms Laurenson pointed out that Lerwick has 4,000 appointments a month, 25 per cent more than would be expected in a practice of that size on the Scottish mainland.
However the introduction of a nurse practitioner in 2008, an additional GP in 2009 and a new strategy on appointments has reduced waiting times for non emergency appointments from 19 days at the beginning of 2010 to just five days.
Mr Kinniburgh said that more work was being done to improve these figures, which involved analysing why there was such pressure on the Lerwick service.
Meanwhile NHS Shetland is well into its clinical strategy, which is critical to the way it faces up to a future with less money at its disposal.
On Friday health staff will discuss the proposals that have come forward during the recent public consultation for cost savings, before presenting a proposal for further consultation that will go public early next month.
Ms Laurenson stressed that “we have to look at absolutely everything”, before a final package is put to the health board for ratification in January.
There have been concerns raised that the number of GP practices could be reduced in Shetland, but this has been described as pure speculation.
However genuine worries do linger over the future of the Scalloway GP practice which would not be able to function under its current financial regime if an application for a private pharmacy in the village proceeds.