LOCAL MSP Tavish Scott has called on the Scottish Government to do more to ensure Shetland has enough full-time doctors.
The Lib Dem raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, with Scottish health secretary Shona Robison pointing to extra initiatives the government has introduced which can benefit rural areas such as bursaries for trainee posts.
But Scott suggested specific measures need to be devised for Shetland, which currently has vacancies in Lerwick, Yell, Unst, Bixter and Scalloway and is experiencing something of a recruitment crisis at a time when the health board’s rising costs are creating a sizeable deficit.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the integration joint board, which oversees health and social care in Shetland, it was revealed that locum GP costs are expected to cause over £500,000 of overspends by the end of the financial year.
Recent efforts to recruit GPs and nurses in the North Isles and Fair Isle have all failed to successfully secure staff.
In parliament, Scott asked what steps the Scottish Government is taking to assist NHS Shetland in filling its vacancies, with Robison replying:
“The Scottish Government’s commitment to general practice is clear, with an additional £250m per year is going in direct support of general practice by the end of this Parliament. But we know that GP recruitment and retention can at times be challenging, in our rural, remote and island communities.
“That’s why, through our GP recruitment and retention fund, we’re supporting a range of initiatives of direct benefit to Shetland and other island communities, such as the Scottish rural medicine collaborative (which includes NHS Shetland), and bursaries for GP trainees (which include two eligible trainee posts in Shetland).
“Our new graduate entry medicine programme will also focus on medical students spending more time in general practice and remote and rural areas.”
However, in a statement released on Friday, the Shetland MSP said the government is not grasping the full scale of the problem in the isles.
“Shetland is facing a very tough time in recruiting GPs,” Scott said.
“There are vacancies in Lerwick, Yell, Unst, Bixter and Scalloway. And Walls too faces a period of uncertainty as NHS Shetland decides what to do with the two west side practices.
“The health board are also spending some £0.5 million on doctor locum cover. This is not a good situation with a lack of continuity for patients and a revolving door of temporary GP’s in practices.
“In addition, we seem to have returned to people having to queue outside the Lerwick Health Centre before it opens at 8.30am in order to get an appointment.
“So it is important that the Scottish Government recognise the scale of the challenge now facing Shetland. Specific measures are needed to ensure our GP practices are properly staffed with full time doctors. That is not the case at the moment in too many local practices.”