Minister hears plea for debts to be written off

Locum costs, hospital bed closures because of staffing shortages and staff retention were among the issues discussed at NHS Shetland’s annual review meeting.

The Scottish government’s mental health minister Clare Haughey was attending the meeting, which was held on Monday afternoon.

It came after NHS Shetland was forced to close six beds at the Gilbert Bain Hospital because of a recruitment shortfall.

Director of nursing Kathleen Carolan said she hoped to have the shortage addressed within three months.

Ms Haughey’s visit came after the crippling costs of travel and accommodation connected to locum medical cover was highlighted late last year.

During the meeting she was challenged by Shetland integration joint board vice-chairman Allison Duncan.

He warned that Shetland had spent £4 million on locum cover over 18 months.

“We already know that other local authorities like Dundee and other NHS debts are going to be written off. Will you write off any outstanding debts that we have here in Shetland?” Mr Duncan said.

The minister said she appreciated locum costs were “perhaps understandably high” but added that she was encouraged to hear of work done by the health board to train, recruitment and retain staff.

“I was also interested to hear about the use of technology here in Shetland of ‘Attend Anywhere’ [which uses Skype technology] and using video conferencing for accessing specialists on the mainland,” Ms Haughey said.

NHS Shetland chief executive Ralph Roberts said “positive discussions” had been held with the Scottish government over the festive period “on how we can get support to recognise cost pressures we have had in the past year”.

Earlier in the meeting Mr Roberts said good progress had been made in the last year, although he insisted the board was far from complacent.

“We met our financial targets last year,” he said. “We have a small underspend and that was after we made some very significant savings of over two and a half million pounds worth.”

Mr Robertson said that meant the board could continue to invest in services where it needed to.


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