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Health / Waiting times top priority for new clinical psychologist

NHS Shetland’s new consultant clinical psychologist has laid out her priorities – with tackling waiting times at the top of the agenda.

Mary Roberts has already started the role remotely, with the South African due to arrive in Shetland in the new year.

She said her speciality is adult mental health, an area she has worked in at both the Highland and Tayside health boards.

Roberts has worked as a clinical psychologist for nearly 17 years.

Mary Roberts.

She describes the role as “working with people who have mental health difficulties, people who are mentally distressed, and being able to assess them…so that you can make decisions about the most appropriate intervention or treatment”.

Her job at NHS Shetland is a senior position which will allow her to restructure the service where she sees fit.

Roberts said this is something she is already considering, with a key factor being to enable greater access to psychological therapy.

When asked about the challenges ahead, she said: “In terms of psychology I think that it will need some restructuring.

“By that I mean a close look at how the service has been functioning and what it needs to improve on. I think trying to increase the access to psychological therapies would be important and that patients can access the service in a timely fashion.”

Figures released earlier this year showed that at one point there had been waiting times of over two years to see a clinical psychologist.

Roberts said she “knew right from the outset that it’s something that I need to focus on and address”.

“That would be absolutely my priority,” she said.

“And the moving on from that, it is to build a tiered or stepped model…so if you think of different levels or tiers of interventions based on the severity of the problem.

“Patients would move through what we call the stepped care model, where they start off at a level that appears to match the presenting problems. However if they need to be referred upwards or the problem because more severe, they have that opportunity to be referred to more appropriate services.”

She added that one way of potentially increasing access to therapy would be to look at a self-referral system as opposed to just only being able to be referred by a professional.

Roberts said that training and “upskilling” existing staff may also be on the agenda.

The appointment comes at a time when mental health has been brought into sharp focus due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Speaking to colleagues my understanding is that it’s had a significant impact on the UK population,” Roberts said.

“On the one hand it’s caused enormous amount of distress because of the number of lockdowns and all the restrictions. I think that in terms of mental health potentially there will be an influx of people that have been affected by Covid that may come into services and seek support.”

The clinical psychologist grew up in South Africa, where she completed her training and education.

I then moved to the United Kingdom and I started working in the NHS,” she said.

“My first post was in NHS Highland, I was there for about five or six years, and then I moved on to Tayside and I worked particularly in Angus in the adult mental health service there. I worked there for about 10 and a half years.”

Roberts said the Shetland role was a “natural progression” for her career.

“The role of consultant allows me to restructure services or shape them in a way which I think will be beneficial for the Shetland community,” she said.

“That’s quite exciting for me, because I think I’ve reached a point in my career where I feel like I have gained the experience to be able to do that.

“On a personal level, I don’t think of myself particularly as a city person. I do like wild places, and I love the lifestyle a more remote and rural area can afford.

“I think that probably harks back to growing up in South Africa where you’re very close to wild places and wild spaces.”