LERWICK Health Centre hopes to ease the pressure on its overburdened service by employing four highly skilled nurses who start in early March.
However the practice is struggling to find a new manager after a second round of interviews failed to find a suitable candidate.
The busy health centre has struggled for years to cope with demand for appointments for the 9,000 people it serves – down from 9,300 last year – due to difficulties in recruiting GPs.
Now NHS Shetland has recruited four advanced nurse practitioners (ANPs) to handle acute appointments, freeing up GPs to deal with complex and chronic cases.
Community health and social care director Simon Bokor-Ingram said Shetland already employed ANPs on its remote islands and they were becoming more common throughout the UK as the shortage of GPs worsened.
“For Shetland it’s a well tried and tested model. Nationally it’s a model being used more and more with good degrees of success,” he said.
Chief community nurse Edna Mary Watson said the four ANPs cost the practice around the same amount as two GPs, and would increase the availability of appointments.
She explained that people attending the practice with acute problems would first see an ANP, who would refer them immediately to a GP if they were unable to deal with the problem.
This would streamline the service and free up GPs to deal with chronic cases and allow patients to book a repeat appointment with the same doctor, which is currently difficult.
“This is going to take a bit of easing in, and it’s not going to be perfect from day one,” she warned.
“We will have to ask everyone to work with us, but I do believe that in the long run this will alleviate the pressure and provide a better service.”
Medical director Roger Diggle said ANPs were not “a magic bullet”, but said they would become increasingly important as the UK faced a major shortage of GPs for at least the next 10 years due to recruitment problems.
“The number of new trainees has dropped by 15 per cent nationally; no one wants to do it and the people who do want to do it are primarily women who want to work part time,” he said.
Meanwhile NHS Shetland chairman Ian Kinniburgh suggested the job description for the new practice manager for Lerwick be re-examined after an unsuccessful second round of interviews.
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