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Health / Dickson to take on Orkney health chief role

He will retain Shetland job

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson is taking on the role of interim chief executive of NHS Orkney, alongside NHS Shetland, until Orkney recruits a permanent chief executive.

The move follows the fall from grace of NHS Orkney chief executive designate Iain Stewart who was criticised for travelling from Orkney back to his home on the Black Isle at weekends during the lockdown restriction.

At the time, the Scottish Government defended Stewart, who only took on the Orkney job earlier this year after being chief of NHS Highland.

However when it emerged that he had also travelled to Glasgow during lockdown local MSP Liam McArthur said his position had become untenable.

A statement from NHS Orkney said that as of tomorrow (1 July) Dickson will take on the role of interim chief executive of NHS Orkney, alongside NHS Shetland, for the foreseeable future.

The arrangement is intended to see the board through the winter until a recruitment process can be undertaken.

Dickson is said to bring with him “a wealth of experience of remote, island and rural healthcare service delivery.”

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson. Photo: Shetland News

NHS Orkney chair Meghan McEwan said: “Iain Stewart will not be taking up the role of chief executive and accountable officer with NHS Orkney.

“Iain has provided us with a valuable contribution as Gold Commander during our Covid-19 response phase and has demonstrated a commitment to listening and putting staff at the heart of how we do our business. I would like to thank him for his service and wish him well.

“NHS Orkney needs to look to the future and I believe Michael will help steer us through the recovery and renewal process as we restart our services and adapt to our changing environment.”

According to chairman of NHS Shetland Gary Robinson, the two health boards have provided mutual support to each other in the past and he said that NHS Shetland would not be “disadvantaged” by the new arrangement.

Former SIC leader Gary Robinson took up the reins as NHS Shetland chairman on Wednesday. Photo: Shetland News
NHS Shetland chairman Gary Robinson.

Robinson added: “The demands of delivering healthcare in the time of Covid-19 has posed challenges unique to both communities and, with this in mind, rather than bring in someone who may not fully understand island healthcare, Michael has agreed to lead both organisations through this period.

“NHS Shetland is well on track with the recovery of its services and, with the support of our executive management team, we know Michael is well placed to lead NHS Orkney through the next stage of their renewal.

“The Shetland community can rest assured that I would not have agreed to this change if I felt NHS Shetland would be disadvantaged by this decision. Michael’s focus will be equitable across both Boards.”

Robinson said that he routinely worked with NHS Orkney chairwoman Meghan  McEwen “to share good practice and ideas to support the delivery of high quality care to island communities.”

Dickson, who joined NHS Shetland in January, said: “In the coming days I will work with NHS Orkney’s executive management team to chart a way forward. This is so that the community can feel confident knowing their health needs are in very safe hands.

“Our island communities – Shetland and Orkney – are facing the same challenges but we have remarkable and highly skilled people working in the NHS who will not let us down.

“Both chairs from NHS Orkney and NHS Shetland routinely share good practice and innovation to support the delivery of high quality care to our respective island communities.

“I see this appointment as an extension of that mutual support. I am really looking forward to meeting the teams, working together and building on the bright and sustainable future ahead for healthcare in Orkney.

“We must pull together and focus on what is most important which is ensuring all of us stay safe and well during this time.”

Liam McArthur said that Stewart’s position as head of NHS Orkney “became untenable and his departure inevitable”.

He added: “At a time when staff across the organisation have been going above and beyond in response to the current pandemic, this has been an unwelcome distraction that NHS Orkney did not need nor could it afford.

“Hopefully, Mr Stewart’s departure will draw a line under this unfortunate episode and allow the board and management to focus their full attention on more important matters.

“Meanwhile, I welcome confirmation that NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson has agreed to take over in an interim capacity. He has a strong track record and is perfectly placed to pick up the reins immediately. I certainly look forward to working with him over the coming months”.