Shetland’s new medical director inspired by isles’ pioneering approach to health and social care

Shetland’s new medical director said she has been “inspired” by the isles’ forward thinking approach to health and social care through the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Kirsty Brightwell only started her role with NHS Shetland on Monday – but already says she feels accepted. 

For the past 12 years, Dr Brightwell had been working as a GP in the Western Isles, including a recent spell as associate medical director for the local health board. 

When the Shetland job was advertised, prior to the Covid-19 crisis, Dr Brightwell said she was immediately keen to apply. 

“It looked incredibly interesting,” she said.

“What I read about the role was so inspiring.

“I think the new chief executive Michael Dickson has really breathed new life into this board.

“It just seemed to be going in the right direction; away from traditional models and more towards a holistic approach to health care.

“It felt like a really positive atmosphere.

“I thought I could fit in here.”

Dr Brightwell was one of the first cohorts trained in a pioneering new leadership programme, Project Lift, which aims to prepare management for the transformations in health and social care. 

She said the ethos behind the project “really chimed” with her own views on health and social care. 

Mr Dickson, who has been chief executive at NHS Shetland since January – and recently took on the lead role at NHS Orkney on an interim basis – has regularly spoken of the need to break down barriers between health and social care, particularly when tackling the pandemic. 

Dr Brightwell said the current crisis had reinforced the need for a fresh approach to collaboration.

“Covid has shown that when we work together across departments, we can achieve so much more,” she said. 

“We don’t want to lose that. 

“That’s been one of the big message I’ve picked up from colleagues I’ve been speaking to so far.”

Although Shetland has not had any official cases of Covid-19 since April, Dr Brightwell said the virus continued to have a huge effect in the way health services were delivered. 

“It just changes every day,” she said.

“There’s aways something new, something that changes the rules.

“We’re all becoming conditioned to the constant changes. 

“It’s all about being alert and understanding that we still don’t know everything.”

Originally from London, Dr Brightwell studied in Medicine at Aberdeen University, where she met her husband, Roddy,  and with whom she has two teenage sons. 

She has travelled widely, including a stint working in New Zealand. 

But despite falling in love with the country, Dr Brightwell said she always wanted to return to the UK to work in the NHS. 

“The NHS is just the best – there’s so much to love about it,” she said.

Her time in the Western Isles, where her husband is from, also confirmed her affinity for living and working in remote communities. 

“In an island community, everyone is fully invested in what they do,” she said. 

“I’ve brought my family here, my kids will be going to the local school, we’re all registered at the local GP.

“There’s no getting away from it.”

As medical director, Dr Brightwell is accountable for the medical workforce in Shetland and their professional development. She will also be involved in developing the board’s clinical strategy. 

Dr Brightwell has taken  over the role from Brian Chittick, who had been appointed on an interim basis. 


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