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Council / New integration joint board chair sets out hopes for next five years

Tackling workforce recruitment and retention and exploring a proposal for a heroin assisted treatment clinic are topics on John Fraser’s agenda

WORKFORCE recruitment and retention and progressing the idea of a heroin assisted treatment clinic are two key priorities for the new chair of Shetland’s integration joint board (IJB).

John Fraser, an elected member for Lerwick South, was given the role at the first full council meeting of the new term on Monday.

He said it is a “huge honour – but I do not in any way underestimate the responsibility of the magnitude of the task that’s ahead”.

John Fraser. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

The IJB brings together Shetland Islands Council and NHS Shetland to oversee health and social care.

Its wide-ranging remit spans from primary care and mental health to community nursing and community care.

Fraser, who was first elected as a councillor in 2017, has spent the last two years on the board.

Prior to life in the chamber, he was once the manager of Lerwick Health Centre, while he also has experience of NHS finance and working for mental health and alcohol and drugs groups.

Fraser said he is “passionate about improving the lives of every single resident of Shetland” – and the IJB role gives him an opportunity to contribute to that.

But he stressed it is about working together and said Shetland’s IJB is an exemplar of collaboration. However, Fraser is keen for the board to have its “own unique identity”.

One key focus of the next five years is tackling the recruitment and retention issues facing Shetland – a common theme for island areas.

“I really want us to explore creative ways and look at all options to recruit and retain staff,” he said.

He mooted the possible idea reviewing employment terms and conditions to “make this an attractive role where people want to work, and want to stay”.

Fraser is also keen to engage with frontline staff to ensure “people feel valued and [it is] a place where people want to work”.

During the campaign for the May council election Fraser clubbed together with fellow candidates Robbie McGregor – an SNP member with a background in pharmacy – and Alex Armitage, a Green working in healthcare, to support the idea of Shetland having its own heroin assisted treatment clinic.

This would be a place where people in addiction could access medically prescribed opiates in a safe, controlled environment in the aim of tackling the public health risks caused by street use.

There is already one in Scotland, and research has shown benefits of the heroin assisted treatment. There are initial talks with the Scottish Government over the idea of a clinic in Shetland.

The topic was raised by Armitage at a meeting of the integration joint board last year.

Fraser has spoken openly about his own journey through recovery from alcohol addiction, and he is currently a relief recovery advocate at the Castle Craig rehabilitation hospital in Peeblesshire.

“Conversations with the Scottish Government about creating a heroin assisted treatment scheme in Shetland are at a very early stage,” he said. “I would hope that make real progress on that early in my tenure.”

“I passionately believe this is a positive way forward.”

Meanwhile the IJB will also have to contend with Scottish Government plans for a national care service – something which has raised concern in the isles, where care is already provided to a higher standard than elsewhere.

Fraser is happy to approach the process with an “open mind”, adding his belief that Shetland “should be ready to capitalise on any opportunities that are presented to enhance the level of service provision”.

“But we also must be very mindful to counter any threats that diminish levels of service provision locally, and also very importantly local decision making.”

He said it is a prime example of a situation where an islands impact assessment is needed.

If a national care service goes ahead there is a “very strong argument for Shetland to be removed from that process and the status quo to remain”, Fraser said – and that is where the Scottish Government’s islands act could be invoked.

“As the chair of the IJB, I’ll be all over this,” he said.