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Health / Fewer doctors available than before, NHS medical director says

THE POOL of available doctors who can work in Scotland appears to be less than in the past, according to NHS Shetland’s medical director Dr Kirsty Brightwell.

She added that there has also been an increase in retirements and people choosing to work “flexibly” for a number of reasons – resulting in the health board finding it more difficult to fill some posts.

It comes after local doctor Susan Bowie, who runs the Hillswick health centre, said there was a lack of GPs across the country.

NHS Shetland’s medical director Kirsty Brightwell.

An associate GP post at the Hillswick practice has failed to find a candidate despite the vacancy going live in October 2022.

She was speaking after the chair of the Scottish arm of the British Medical Association (BMA) issued a warning over a shortfall of staff in areas like the Highlands and Islands.

Dr Iain Kennedy told the Guardian that with a large number of vacancies the “rural-urban divide is getting greater, and that of course is widening health inequalities”.

Struggles to find permanent staff often lead to more expensive locum workers being drafted in.

Responding to the topic from an NHS Shetland perspective, Dr Brightwell said while there are recognised difficulties in recruiting people to work in remote and rural areas, “we have successfully recruited both clinical and non-clinical roles”.

“However, like other organisations, we also face challenges in filling some vacancies,” she added.

“For small organisations, the loss of one member of staff can have a much bigger effect than in a larger system, so we are vulnerable to staff turnover.

“We are endlessly grateful to the community of locally-based clinical and non-clinical staff and our partners at the Shetland Islands Council and the third sector that provides the backbone of our high-quality service to the people of Shetland.”

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Noting a reduced pool of available doctors, retirements and flexible working, Dr Brightwell said NHS Shetland has attempted to mitigate the situation.

“We have created flexible posts and worked with individuals to be able to support them to work here through various initiatives, and we will continue to look at how we maintain a sustainable service that continues to provide excellent care to our communities,” she said.

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