Health / Health chief dedicates OBE to hard working NHS staff

NHS Shetland Michael Dickson during the March 2020 press conference. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

WHEN health board chief executive Michael Dickson chaired a hastily arranged press conference in his office on an afternoon in early March 2020 with no ventilation or social distancing in place few had a sense of what was about to hit the Shetland community, the NHS and indeed the whole country.

Dickson had had just been in his new job for little more than two months, a Covid test centre was in the process of being set up in a portacabin outside the Gilbert Bain Hospital and Shetland had two confirmed cases.

Now, almost three years later, Dickson has been awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the New Year’s honours list for his services to health care during the Covid-19 pandemic.

During that time, he was in charge preparing the local health service for a wave of infections that was forecast to overwhelm the NHS – a situation no one had any real experience in how to deal with. Dickson also oversaw the very successful rollout of a comprehensive vaccination programme.


Speaking to Shetland News on Friday, the health boss said he was “stunned and overwhelmed” and dedicated the honour to all the hard working staff at NHS Shetland and to the way the whole community responded to the unprecedented challenge.

“It absolutely isn’t about me, it is about how NHS Shetland responded and how the community responded to what was an unknown risk to us all,” he said.

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson with a fetching Winnie the Pooh-themed top during a Facebook live video session.

“It’s a huge privilege and I really appreciate having been nominated, but I do think it is about recognising the hard work of the NHS staff and the incredible response by the community which made being the chief executive of NHS Shetland during a very difficult time such an amazing experience.”

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As the use of video conferencing platforms became common place, Dickson and his team started experimenting with live broadcasts via Facebook, an idea that quickly became a regular feature and one way of staying directly in touch with the community.

“In a community of 23,000 people are talking to you all the time,” he said. But suddenly that was not possible any longer, and Dickson felt he needed that direct contact with the population to make those difficult decisions more palpable.

“I am pleased we did that [the Facebook broadcasts]”, he said. “It was a really valuable tool. We were able to take people inside a respiratory unit.”

At the height of the first Covid wave Dickson also took on the role of interim chief executive of NHS Orkney while the health board there was trying to recruit a permanent chief executive.


Dickson is due to step down from the interim post in April, almost three years after being appointed, when new CEO Laura Skaife-Knight will take up her post.

He said sharing the posts had been beneficial to both health boards, and added that most aspects of the job were possible to fulfil from one office as most meetings these days are done electronically.

Dickson thanked his “strong team in Shetland” that enabled him to do both jobs. Running NHS Shetland is “not just about the CEO”, he said.

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson was implementation director for the Getting it Right First Time (NHS Improvement England) programme before coming to Shetland. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

“Seeing everybody pulling together is awe inspiring,” Dickson continued, adding that there is no indication that the pressure on services is easing up.

Building the case for a new hospital will be one his priorities over coming months, he said.

And with Covid-19 being off the front pages he was keen to remind people that the virus “is still with us”.

“It will become one of things that we will have to be aware of,” he said, adding that the increased number of flu and Covid cases were creating some difficulties at the Gilbert Bain Hospital.

He urged anyone who was eligible for vaccination and had not got round to arranging an appointment to do so urgently, particularly with the Up Helly Aa season coming up.

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