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Health / Sustainability key for new NHS chief

Brian Chittick also says he wants to be a compassionate leader – and is keen to listen to staff

NEW NHS Shetland chief executive Brian Chittick says making the isles’ health service sustainable for the future and ensuring staff are valued are two of his key aims in the role.

Speaking on Monday on his first day in the chief executive office, Chittick also said he is keen on “compassionate leadership”.

He said taking on the top job after the departure of Michael Dickson seemed like a “natural step forward” in his career.

Brian Chittick. Photo: NHS Shetland

It is a career that has seen him work as both medical and dental director within the health service, while more recently he has been director of community health and social care in Shetland.

Chittick said the job felt a natural progression given his history and also “the passion I have for Shetland”.

He also acknowledges that health staff have endured a “real torrid three years”.

He described his leadership style as listening and looking after the team.

“I think it’s really about listening to people as well, and just hearing all the different perspectives that are out there.”

So what are Chittick’s hopes in the job? Ensuring healthcare in Shetland is sustainable in the years ahead – “that people can access the care that they need in the way that’s appropriate to them” – is paramount.

“That’s a real hope, around about linking our clinical and care strategy – what we want to do as a health board, with people of Shetland and what they need and what they want as well,” the chief executive said.

But another aim is to ensure staff are valued, whether that be from within the NHS or the wider community.

“I think it’s really important that people value the staff who keep our NHS going in our community,” Chittick said.

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Not only has staff gone through the Covid pandemic, but the cost of living crisis has hit in the last year as well.

“We’ve just completed our annual staff survey, and we will be reviewing that with staff as well, to see how we can try and make changes that will make their lives better at work as well as maybe even things like better work life balance,” he said.

It all comes against a tricky financial backdrop, with the health board continuing to overspend against budget.

The main factor behind the overspend is the need to bring in more expensive temporary staff to fill gaps in provision.

Chittick acknowledges that as an island health board there will always need to be visiting specialists.

“That being said there might be different ways we can work maybe in partnership with other health boards experiencing the same problem,” he said.

“Are there ways we can use digital and technology solutions to maybe make access to those specialists a little bit easier, but maybe not face to face, or remote working, or hybrid working those kind of aspects as well.

“I think if we get the workforce piece right and the valuing staff, then that will also be part of the solution as well – making Shetland and NHS Shetland an amazing place to work.

“That’s what we’re finding – people are ready for a change and are thinking I’ve seen Shetland on the TV, I’ve heard about it, it seems to be really on the front foot of some of the innovative work that we’re doing, and that’s enticing in itself. It’s also about promoting NHS Shetland as a great place to work.”

A lack of available accommodation has often been highlighted as a barrier for some folk finding a job in Shetland, especially in the health service.

But Chittick said it is not quite a “doom and gloom” situation – with some new employees for example coming up from south and getting a place to stay.

A replacement Gilbert Bain Hospital could, potentially, include accommodation for NHS staff.

But it is still some way off, as the health board continues to go through the required Scottish Government processes.

He said there is a need to get things right and appropriate for the future – a new hospital in 2033 for example should not be a hospital designed for 2023.

“The progress has already started,” Chittick added.

“We have an IA [initial agreement] programme that’s on the go at the moment. There has been an ask that we expand our thought process around the whole health care estate, both in community and what that means for an acute setting as well.

“I don’t see that as slow progress – I see that as actual good future proofing. We’ve got to get the process right.”

Meanwhile Chittick’s background in dentistry is already being picked up on at a national level.

The registered dentist said there is a problem across Scotland with accessing NHS dental care at the moment.

It is being felt strongly in areas like Shetland, with routine check-ups taking a backseat to emergency work since the Covid pandemic.

“Our dental director Antony Visocchi has been really working hard with partners, Scottish Government, to try and make the case for doing things slightly different in a remote and rural island setting,” he said.

“That’s a conversation I will be really interested in, stepping into the chief executive role.

“But also regarding the way the chief executives across Scotland work, dentistry has come onto their radar, and I’ve already been asked if I would be interested in taking forward and supporting that work with the other dental directors across Scotland.”

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