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Be patient, patients told

NHS Shetland chairman Ian Kinniburgh.

TOWN medical patients are being warned not to expect a quick fix for Lerwick Health Centre’s frustratingly slow appointments system.

At a board meeting on Tuesday NHS Shetland chairman Ian Kinniburgh said some progress was being made but “people shoudn’t expect too much”.

Users of the town’s health centre have been complaining for years about the length of time it takes to get an appointment.

There have also been frequent grumbles about the system of “walk-in” clinics, with some patients turning up and waiting for entire afternoons to be seen by a GP.

The matter was finally put before the NHS Shetland board late last year at the behest of the local public partnership forum. Of 900 people who responded to its survey, nearly four in five were unhappy with the appointments system.

A report tabled at this week’s meeting highlighted some of the challenges involved in reducing waiting times – including the time taken to replace departing staff.

NHS Shetland chairman Ian Kinniburgh said progress was being made, but cautioned that “people shouldn’t expect too much” to happen quickly.

“We’ve agreed the beginnings of an action plan today [Tuesday],” he told BBC Radio Shetland.

“We’ve recognised that we need to put additional resource in there to manage the problem, and that in itself will help determeine the most appropriate way forward.”

But Kinniburgh added: “We need to be very upfront and honest with patients about what the expectations should be.”

Members of the public partnership forum said afterwards that NHS Shetland management appeared to have “got the gist of what we’re trying to put over”.

They stressed that there was nothing wrong with the care provided by GPs and nurses; it was simply a questioning of improving the administrative system for accessing that care.

Meanwhile, two new consultant posts are to be created at the Gilbert Bain Hospital.

It is hoped that a new anaesthetist and physician will reduce the burden on existing staff at the hospital.

The move, costing over £300,000, bucks the trend elsewhere in Scotland where additional resources are being targeted at community care rather than hospitals.

NHS Shetland medical director Roger Diggle said it was “not easy to recruit high quality people”, not least because surgeons need to be generalists, and they have to deal with a wide range of conditions, which is not normal in the rest of the UK”.

The two new additions should allow more operations to be carried out in Lerwick rather than Aberdeen.

Diggle said he also hoped it would make a “big difference” to the work-life balance of key staff members.