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Health / Government minister hails ‘outstanding’ health staff for pandemic efforts

NHS staff in Shetland have been praised by a government minister for their “sustained professionalism and commitment” during the Covid pandemic.

In an annual review letter, mental wellbeing and social care minister Kevin Stewart gave NHS Shetland a relatively clean bill of health.

The MSP noted the health board’s reconfiguration of services as the pandemic struck in 2020.

This included a “significant increase in the use of technology, such as Near Me, to deliver care outside hospitals or clinic settings, alongside effective, whole system working”, Stewart wrote.

While Shetland has performed well against waiting targets for A&E, for instance, there has been less success for psychological therapies.

“NHS Shetland’s poor performance reflects work to address a historic backlog of long waits,” Stewart said.

“A newly appointed consultant psychologist has been working through the long waits, and performance is likely to remain relatively low until the backlog is cleared.

“This remains a key challenge for the board, however progress is being made.”

In summary, Stewart wrote: “We are most grateful for the outstanding efforts of local staff to adapt and maintain key services during 2020/21 for the benefit of local people, in the face of unrelenting pressures.

“We must also recognise that the initial pandemic response, which necessitated the prioritisation of Covid, emergency and urgent care, meant that there has inevitably been a regrettable increase in non-Covid health and wellbeing harms, alongside a significant and growing backlog of non-urgent planned care; and that, despite the success of the vaccination programme, we face ongoing risks around the disease, alongside a range of other pressures that are likely to have a significant impact; both over the recent winter period and beyond.”

Meanwhile nursing and acute services director Kathleen Carolan told a meeting of the NHS Shetland board on Tuesday that the winter was “very challenging”.

This was in part due to the level of Covid-related absence among staff as the Omicron variant spread.

But Carolan added: “We have in the main provided a business as usual service through winter, which I think is absolutely commendable.”

During this period the health board also ran an enhanced elective care programme.