A fresh approach of recruiting GPs to the isles has been agreed by NHS Shetland – as it looks to boost the number of permanent doctors.
About 30 people attended a meeting of the health board today to hear about the future of the single-handed doctors’ surgeries in Walls and Bixter.
A series of options were put forward: creating a single practice; keeping the status quo of two including two separate; stand-alone practices: or a formal merging of the two centres and sharing GPs.
Members were that told regardless of the options, the detail of the services would be developed with staff and communities, if appropriate.
Residents have raised concerns about sharing a doctor and having to travel for appointments, with health bosses met with angry responses during two public meetings in August.
Feedback forms from the public have also been handed in, with a fear that a merger could lead to a closure of the Walls practice in future.
Both Bixter and Walls practices are under control of the health board, the latter in September this year after Helen Ward retired.
Criticism has been laid at NHS Shetland for not finding a replacement sooner, as Dr Ward had given three months notice.
Locums have been working in both practices with Bixter having a GP vacancy since June.
However, hefty locum costs are expected to top £1 million by the end of the financial year, as well as meaning a lack of continuity of care for patients.
Health chiefs discussed the need to recruit GPs against a backdrop of a national shortage of general practitioners.
Rather than committing to a formal merger, members agreed to recruit “flexibly” – building a job around a suitable applicant.
This could include things such as being salaried or non-salaried, full or part-time work, or the opportunity to also work in other areas of medicine.
NHS Shetland is also working with the West Side communities to help attract doctors – with a website being worked on by community councils to tie in with the job posts and explain about life in the isles.
Primary care manager Lisa Watt said NHS Shetland hoped to advertise the Walls job next week.
The Bixter job had been part of a more general advert to attract GPs, she said, but would now be part of the new approach.
Ms Watt said: “What we’re saying now is if you’re a GP and you would like to come to Shetland but you don’t want to work full-time and you want to do something else, then talk to us and we will see if we can make it happen …
“It’s a different approach although we have tried to be really flexible in the past, but now we’re saying ‘help us design a job for you’.”
• More in Friday’s Shetland Times.