Health workers struggling to find accommodation amid housing crisis

The health board is facing “huge” challenges bringing essential workers to Shetland due to a lack of accommodation.

NHS Shetland’s board meeting heard today (Tuesday)  that while its reliance on locums was still a financial concern – the housing problems were even more of a worry.

Board member Ian Sandilands said he had heard from colleagues across health and social care that accommodation was very difficult to find in Shetland. 

“That also impacts on recruitment,” he said.

“Because when you’re speaking to people and they’re asking ‘where can I stay’? you have to say ‘I don’t know because there ain’t nothing unless you can buy a house within a week”.

NHS Shetland’s chief executive Michael Dickson said it was a “really important point”.

While he said the board would seek “broad, innovative” ways to recruit people to Shetland, he added the “fundamental challenge” was finding a place for them to stay.

Mr Dickson said the community had been “phenomenal” in helping to provide housing and the SIC was also working to address the problem.

“But we are constrained by a range of factors,” he said.

“It’s not something the health board can fix ourselves.”

Mr Dickson joked the health board had missed an opportunity by not buying a redundant cruise ship to serve as accommodation.

“That could have been a solution for us – and a gym,” he added.

Non-executive director Lincoln Carrol said the issue of accommodation was “huge” – and was only likely to worsen over the year with the influx of workers involved in the Viking Energy wind farm.

He suggested “repurposing” buildings that were currently not in use for residential or commercial uses, to provide a short term solution.

Board chairman Gary Robinson said the issue was not new and had been raised in a report as far back as 2015.

“The issues are well known, the solution, unfortunately, are quite slow in coming forward,” he said. 

“We need accommodation now but there’s’ a timeline associated with actually getting that.

“The pressure is likely to remain for some years to come.”


Add Your Comment
  • Bill Smale

    • August 17th, 2021 15:29

    NHS Shetland used to own housing for rural GPs and district nurses. Why was that sold off?

    • Dr Gerald Freshwater

      • August 18th, 2021 9:16

      As Bill Smale rightly mentions, the Health Board used to own houses for rural healthcare staff. They also had accommodation in Lerwick for many hospital staff, including those providing domestic services, as well as nurses, doctors and other clinicians. Government policy in the 1980’s forced the Board to sell them off, not only to then-current tenants, but also on the open market. Protests that this would affect recruitment and retention of staff at every level were to no avail, though it has been a problem for the Board – and Shetland – ever since.


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