TWO public meetings are being held in Yell and Unst on Friday to start discussions on the future of health and care services in the North Isles in a time of increasing financial pressure.
Simon Bokor-Ingram, health and social care director, stressed that there are no “pre-determined decisions” for the North Isles following speculation that a care home in either Yell or Unst could be closed in the future to cut costs.
But he said continued reduction in income from Shetland Charitable Trust for the isles’ rural care model means that the Integration Joint Board (IJB) – which covers health and social care – needs to “look at how we can best meet people’s needs with less funding available over the coming years”.
The first public meeting will be held at the Uyeasound Hall in Unst on Friday between 4.30pm and 6pm, while a further drop-in session will take place at Yell’s Burravoe Hall from 7pm.
The meetings come at a time when both the local health board and the council’s community health and social department are grappling with a need to greatly reduce spending while costs outstrip income.
The Integration Joint Board (IJB) heard at a recent meeting that it was projected to have a deficit of almost £3 million this financial year due to the NHS side of its operation.
Bokor-Ingram will make the trip to the North Isles on Friday alongside IJB chairwoman Marjorie Williamson and other members to meet the public, as well as NHS and SIC staff.
He said the North Isles have a number of specific issues which affect “service sustainability”, including recruitment. There have been long-standing GP vacancies for Yell and Unst, for instance.
Bokor-Ingram said he was aware of recent speculation on Facebook that either Yell’s Isleshavn care home or Unst’s Nordalea – which are both run by the council – could be closed to save money.
While he said no decisions have been made, Shetland Charitable Trust policy of continuing to reduce funding for rural care homes – around £105,000 is due to be cut from the budget next year – could have an effect on services.
It is understood that assurances have been made that there will not be any care home closures in Shetland in 2018/19.
“The cumulative effect of those yearly reductions already experienced and those to come, along with general rising costs, means that we do need to look at how we can best meet people’s needs with less funding available over the coming years,” Bokor-Ingram said.
“That is why engagement with our staff and the public is so important, as we need to find long term solutions to the challenges we face as a community.”
He added that the sessions on Friday are “designed to enter into a dialogue with the local communities about health and care provision over the next five to 10 years.
“This is a start of that process. There are no pre-determined decisions at all about services or buildings.
“The IJB decided to focus initially on the North Isles as there are a number of challenges impacting on service sustainability – recruitment of GPs, recruitment of social care workers, small teams and geographical spread of population.
“We want to work with the community to find long term solutions to resilience and sustainability for service provision.”
North Isles councillor Duncan Simpson encouraged as many people as possible to attend the events.
“These meetings are a chance for health workers and members of the community to have their say in how services should be delivered in Yell, Unst and Fetlar in the future,” he said.
“The aim is to use a community development approach, in full partnership with staff and communities, in order to discuss the issues facing the North Isles and identify possible solutions.”
Simpson added that he would “strongly oppose” any potential closure of rural care homes.
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