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People wanted to shape the future for health and social care

THE PUBLIC is being urged to help shape Shetland’s health and care programmes of the future at a time of great change in these services nationally and locally.

“You may be young and healthy now, but you will be the old and vulnerable of the future,” is the message from lay member of the Shetland Public Engagement Network (SPEN) Maggie Gemmill.

SPEN has taken over from the now defunct Public Partnership Forum as one way for the public to become involved in formulating the future of services in Shetland.

It recognises the difficulty there can be in catching the public’s notice when all is going well. A recent Carers’ Link Group meeting in Yell was attended by two people – the group’s Jim Guyan and SPEN chairwoman Sue Beer.

Gemmill also urges people to attend meetings of the NHS Shetland and the Integration Joint Board (IJB) – the organisation charged with merging the health and social care aspects of the NHS and Shetland Islands Council.

The merger might seem like too much bureaucratic froth, but it has already paid dividends in new and improved service delivery and is gathering pace, according to Gemmill, who says it has produced sometimes “brilliant” results.

She said: “We have to remember that the health board is there to help us but the only way they can help us is if we can talk to them and tell them what we are frightened of and what we would like.”

Public feedback can help the services improve and adapt to provide something the public can engage with; there is little point introducing something that will be unpopular with patients or users, she said.

A case in point was the huge waiting times at Lerwick Health Centre. The public became hugely engaged with the issue when the difficulty in seeing a GP led to people queuing outside the centre in the town’s South Road in winter.

Heavily constrained by reducing budgets, the NHS decided to hire a number of advanced nurse practitioners – ANPs – to take on some of the GP work and these have been widely hailed a success.

According to Gemmill public engagement is more problematic when busy people do not have issues that affect them directly to focus on.

But with an ageing population, growing demands on health and care services and widely publicised financial problems, she says it is urgent for the people of Shetland to pull up their sleeves and get involved in deciding what the future of their services will look like.

As well as SPEN and the regular board meetings, patients and public can leave feedback on what they think of services and how things should be done differently at Care Opinion, a website where people tell their anonymous stories. At present it has 13,537 stories about NHS Scotland.

Gemmill says that it is important people realise they can give their opinions of the health service in complete confidence.

Many, she said, are reluctant to come forward as they fear any negative comment will come back to bite them in future. But this is simply not the case as people are given complete confidentiality.

Gemmill is encouraging people to become involved via SPEN’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/ShetlandPEN/about/?ref=page_internal

People can also leave their opinion of services at: https://www.careopinion.org.uk/services/nhs-scotland