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Health / Island health boards have a lot to offer, says NHS Shetland new medical director

NHS SHETLAND’s newly appointed medical director has praised the three island health boards for their quick and flexible response to the Covid crisis.

Dr Kirsty Brightwell started in her new role at the local health board earlier this week.

Originally from London, Dr Brightwell has worked in the Western Isles as a GP and an associate medical director for the health board there for the last 12 years.

Kirsty Brightwell started in her new job as NHS Shetland’s news medical director on Monday.

Ready for a new challenge, the mother of two teenage boys said she was looking forward to promoting the role of island health boards and the way they have responded to the pandemic.

An important part of her new job will be to recruit – and retain – health professionals to the islands, something she already has a lot of experience in as part of the Rediscover the Joy team which encourages doctors to Scotland’s most remote communities.

One of the many side effects of the Covid crisis has been that more and more people are looking to live away from the densely populated areas with local estate agents reporting an unprecedented interest in the local property market.

Dr Brightwell said: “At the moment I think we are really lucky as a lot of people want to come to remote and rural locations so there is something to capitalise on.”

And, with 12 years of experience of working in a very rural and remote setting, she appreciates the value of working for a small health board in an island setting.

“There is so much to be celebrated particularly in islands boards,” she said, adding that what works at an island health board will work at any NHS board, but what works at a large city-based board will not necessarily work on the islands.

“It is an opportunity for us to be frontrunners; Covid has been awful, but if you can take learning from it I think it is that you have to adapt, you have to be quick and think on your feet, and the island boards in particular had to do that.

“Shetland had an outbreak quite early on and we all looked to Shetland thinking ‘what are they going to do?’.

“We have been learning from them and that has been a big confidence boost for island boards.”

Referring to issues over air ambulance transport to the Scottish mainland and the fact that no island health board has ready access to an intensive care unit, she described the initial Covid challenges for all three island heath boards – in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles – as “very scary”.

“We didn’t have access to the Louise Jordan potential, we couldn’t move staff round from different areas in any great volume – all this created unite challenges on island board; and they were quick to get on with it and couldn’t look for central direction on that,” she said.

“I think all three island boards did exceptionally well in getting themselves ready.

“We are not just an afterthought of the larger health boards, we have got a lot to offer here.”

As Shetland, in line with Scotland, slowly comes out of lockdown a lot of work will need to be done in re-assuring the public about the ‘new normal’ with regards to accessing services in the hospital, new routines in face-to-face consultation as well as learning smarter use of video conferencing technology, Dr Brightwell said.

And then there is the whole question over Shetland’s clinical strategy for the next 20 years, a project that was kicked off last year under the leadership of the board’s previous chief executive Ralph Roberts.

This will need to undergo a complete redesign following Covid. Dr Brightwell said she was keen to become involved in that work and described the coronavirus pandemic as “a boost” in the sense that it helps to focus minds on what a health strategy for the future could look like.

The focus in any new strategy, she said, needed to be around the question “what is it that makes people well as to opposed to how do we fix people when they get sick”.