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Health / Recruit locally where possible, councillor tells health and social care partnership

A CALL has been made for people to be employed locally where possible in health and social care as unemployment rises in Shetland.

Councillor Robbie McGregor made the comment at a meeting of the health and social care partnership integration joint board (IJB) on Thursday.

SNP councillor Robbie McGregor.Councillor Robbie McGregor.

“I really think we should be trying to employ local people if at all possible,” he said.

New figures released on Thursday showed that the number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance in Shetland as of 11 June stood at 490 – an increase of 200 from a year ago.

It comes as the health and social care partnership ended the 2019/20 financial year with an overspend of £1.95 million against budget.

However, the books were balanced at the end of the year due to additional one-off contributions of £2.734 million from NHS Shetland and £710,000 from Shetland Islands Council.

The unaudited accounts show that temporary locum staff were again proving a high expense against a backdrop of continued difficulty in recruiting to specialist posts in the year, notably in mental health, primary care and unscheduled care.

A consultant mental health locum and their flights and accommodation, for instance, resulted in an additional spend of £453,000.

There was an overspend at health centres where it was not possible to fill vacant posts, although a new initiative called Rediscover the Joy which aims to attract GPs to work in the north of Scotland on short-term contracts has helped to reduce overall locum costs.

The accounts said that Shetland has “low unemployment and the population is ageing at a faster rate than the rest of Scotland”, leading to challenges for recruiting local people to community health and social care roles.

This in turn leads to increased reliance and spend on agency staff, the report said.

Councillor McGregor said on Thursday that unemployment is unfortunately increasing in Shetland as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief officer Brian Chittick said that efforts are continuing regarding the use of agency staff, highlighting that GPs are trained in Shetland – something which has produced a “really good throughput”.

He said Shetland was coming out of Covid-19 with a “significant impact” on unemployment.

“We should be looking locally wherever we can,” he added.

The accounts also touch on the huge impact Covid-19 has had on the health and social care sector.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that since March 2020 a huge amount of work has been done by health and social care partnerships to respond quickly to changing legislation and guidance to manage the virus,” they said.

“Services across the IJB have had to adapt rapidly and the value of partnership working has never been more evident.

“It is expected during 2020/21 that services will start to return to normal, but social distancing measures will remain and the longer reaching economic impact of the pandemic, while difficult to quantify, will undoubtedly lead to further fiscal pressures.”

There was an efficiency savings target of £2.331 million during the 2019/20 financial year, with £1.427 million achieved.

A warning was also sounded at Thursday’s IJB meeting over the prospect of finding savings in certain services going forward.

McGregor said with issues like Brexit at play he felt it would not be possible to achieve projected savings in pharmacy and prescribing.

“I really am amazed that we think that realistic savings can be made in 2020 and 2021,” he said.

NHS Shetland’s Jo Robinson did say, however, that the pharmacy team believe they can achieve £100,000 in savings this year.

Board chair councillor Emma Macdonald added: “We just have to be sensible. If we can’t find savings there, don’t waste time looking for them.”