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Health board co-operation falls well short of merger, chief says

Gilbert Bain HospitalThe Gilbert Bain Hospital.

NHS SHETLAND has not been involved in any discussions on formal mergers of health boards in the North of Scotland, according to the organisation’s chief executive Ralph Roberts.

His denial of merger plans comes after rumours and reports that the six health authorities in the “north region” are to merge with NHS Tayside to form a super authority in a bid to overcome senior management staffing shortages.

Roberts said that NHS Shetland had been in discussions over the last 18 months on collaborating more closely to improve the health service. “This is a natural extension of the partnership work that has been done over the last 15 years as part of the North of Scotland Planning Group,” he said.

“Over the last 18 months the six health boards in the North of Scotland have been collaborating more closely to deliver and sustain our health services.

“As part of this collaborative work we have been developing a draft regional delivery plan that will set out why and how health services might adapt to the future. It is expected to start a wider community engagement on this plan later in the year.

“Beyond this collaborative work, which is helpful for us in sustaining local services, NHS Shetland has not been involved in any discussions on formal mergers of health boards in the North of Scotland.

Roberts added: “Our focus is on delivering local services and working in partnership with other Health Boards, where appropriate, and with other Shetland partners, such as the council, when this makes more sense in providing good local services and sustaining the local economy.”

This week the media has been abuzz with reports of pending mergers between NHS Tayside and the north area health boards including Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles, Highland and Grampian, with which NHS Shetland has by far the strongest links.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said that the impact on islands health boards needed to be thoroughly considered before any mergers took place.

He said: “Patients in Orkney and Shetland rely heavily on these mainland boards, particularly NHS Grampian, for specialist treatment and care. Any proposals to merge NHS Grampian, NHS Highland and NHS Tayside, therefore, must take full account of the impact on island health boards.

“Traditionally, rural and island communities have not fared well from the centralisation of services. They will need some convincing therefore that their interests lie at the heart of these proposals.”

Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston also raised concerns over future health delivery in the Isles; with NHS Tayside’s chief executive due to retire next year and NHS Highland’s chief executive stepping down in December fuelling talk of a merger.

He said the SNP Government needed to provide those living in Orkney and Shetland with full clarification over their plans for the structure and accountability of health services in the Northern Isles.

Halcro Johnston said: “While there has been an initial denial from the SNP Government over any potential mergers, those living in Orkney and Shetland deserve full transparency over how our future health services will be delivered and what local accountability there will be.

“People in Orkney and Shetland, especially those who are currently or have been patients and have received treatment outwith their health board, are acutely aware of the situations surrounding mainland health boards and how the Northern Isles’ health boards are reliant on their services.

“The relationships with the mainland health boards are critical, but local accountability is vital too. We have already seen far too much centralisation of services away from our island communities over the decade the SNP has been in charge.”