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Health / Health officials keen to sell Shetland more in bid to recruit staff

Initial talks have already been held with Promote Shetland

The Muckle Roe bridge. Photo courtesy of Shetland Islands Council.
Photo: SIC

SELLING Shetland as an attractive place to live – as well as work – is one tactic that could be used by health officials to tempt more people to consider taking up jobs in the isles.

Chief officer of the local health and social care partnership Brian Chittick said initial discussions have been had with Promote Shetland.

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It comes against a backdrop of continued spending on expensive temporary locum staff who are needed to plug gaps in service provision, with workers from outside Shetland often having to step in to cover vacant posts.

A meeting of the integration joint board heard on Thursday that there is a “significant challenge ahead” for the partnership to achieve a sustainable financial position by 2026 – with the cost of locums again highlighted as a key driver of spending.

The board brings together Shetland Islands Council and NHS Shetland to cover health and social care in the isles.

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In 2020/21 the board is expected to overspend by around £610,000, which is calculated from a £700,000 underspend on the council side and an overspend of £1.3 million on the NHS Shetland arm.

Finance officer Karl Williamson said the high expenditure on temporary locum staff continues to be the key reason behind the overspending.

“We have to continue to focus on the longer term redesign to close the funding gap,” he said.

Williamson said this needed to be tackled by “redesigning contracts and changing service models, because it’s not sustainable”.

Chittick said he hoped moving out of the coronavirus pandemic could give potential for a new, targeted recruitment drive which could cut locum costs if it is successful.

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“People may be looking for a change, people may be looking for something different,” he said.

It aligns with the view of local estate agents who have reported an increased interest in people moving to Shetland following the pandemic, with the islands potentially seen as a more relaxed place with fewer constraints.

Councillor Robbie McGregor questioned if it could be worth promoting Shetland as a “relatively Covid free” place to live and work in, but Chittick said to better focus on the existing strengths of the isles – with the coronavirus situation unpredictable.

He said the talks with Promote Shetland had encouraged him to think about what attracted him to move to the isles.

Chittick highlighted the “fantastic community and great services” as two strengths.

He said there is a case for focusing recruitment more on the benefits of living in Shetland, in addition to just working in the isles.

Chittick also said it may be a better idea to expand job adverts from more traditional sources like medical journals to areas like digital media.

Rotational working in the Rediscover the Joy GP recruitment scheme has helped, but this type of working is not suited to all services, he said.

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The meeting also heard that while it is preferred to have locally based staff, the mental health team is not ruling out the prospect of employing people from outwith Shetland for services which do not require face to face contact.

Head of mental health Karen Smith said for example that it has interviewed someone in Ireland for a therapist post.

Lerwick councillor John Fraser highlighted that certain mental health sessions have successfully been carried out virtually during the pandemic, but he also stressed the priority would be to have staff based locally.

David Nicol, who is the managing director of Promote Shetland contract holder NB Communication, told Shetland News that the agency is currently working with the NHS and the council and is open to new campaigns.

Promote Shetland, which is funded by the council, recently rebranded with an ‘islands of opportunity’ tag line.

“We already undertake a wide range of activity to promote Shetland as a fantastic place to live and work,” Nicol said.

“This includes managing the ‘Live, Work and Study’ content on the shetland.org website in addition to engaging with an ever-growing audience on our different social media channels.

“We also publish regular email newsletters, including one which is specific to medical professionals. We are currently working with both the NHS and SIC to maximise the benefits that we can all generate from existing Promote Shetland content and assets.

“We are also exploring opportunities for new joint campaigns aligned with current and emerging recruitment needs within Shetland.”

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