New horizons with NHS Orkney

After a year like no other, NHS Orkney is starting to think about the future.

Orkney’s local health board is launching a recruitment drive to complement its current crop of talented consultants and GPs. So, if you want a change of scene after a tumultuous twelve months, it might be time to look north.

“This is an exciting time at NHS Orkney,” says Chief Executive, Michael Dickson. “We’re aiming to expand our teams at our new hospital and have positions for a range of consultants in surgery, medicine and anaesthesia, and we’re also looking for GPs to join our practices in the islands of Hoy and Stronsay.”

Watch our film about working for NHS Orkney and living in the islands

It’s the first large-scale recruitment campaign carried out by the organisation for some time, with the aim firmly on improving the standard of care on offer to patients across the archipelago. For the right candidates, it can also be much more than that.

“There is something really important about living and working in a small island community,” says Michael, who became Chief Executive of NHS Shetland in 2019 before taking on the Orkney role on a joint basis last year. “People recognise you, they respect you, they respect the contribution you make to their community, and you become part of it.”

Community is key to how health care is delivered in Orkney. In the smaller isles, GP practices are linked with video conferencing through the unique Isles Network of Care, so doctors and Nurse Practitioners can support each other, discuss cases and ask for advice if needed. GPs need to be able to react to anything and manage the logistics of providing medical care when the hospital is a ferry ride or a flight away.

I love the outdoors, and I love swimming in the sea. The sea here is crystal clear and I’m in the water more days than I’m not. I go walking a lot, the wildlife is incredible and the Neolithic sites like the Ring of Brodgar are just phenomenal. We do work quite long hours, but I make sure I get out and about and have fun. Combining the two is my main reason for coming here.

Sian Clement, Out of Hours GP with NHS Orkney

Charlie Siderfin is one of those GPs and has been working in the island of Westray for the last six years, splitting his time between the practice there and his home in Kirkwall. “There is a real joy – and a real challenge - about rural practice,” he says. “There’s an intensity to the time that you’re on for, but also to the work too. You never know what you’re going to be up against.”

Charlie has been involved in enhancing NHS Orkney’s recruitment over the last 20 years. “A decade ago, we were basically struggling to recruit but the Isles Network of Care changed everything and since 2015 we’ve essentially been able to fill every post.

“The structure here helps with learning, but also makes you feel part of a team rather than running something single-handedly. But it’s not just about being a doctor either,” he says. “You have to work well with colleagues, be supportive and look after each other. In the end this means there can be a better quality of care for the patient.”

Orkney’s state-of-the-art hospital, The Balfour, is one of six rural general hospitals in Scotland and provides care to the population of around 22,000 people. Each hospital offers a consultant-led service, so patients can expect to see the likes of surgeons, physicians, anaesthetists and obstetricians locally if needed.

Recruitment issues over the years have meant NHS Orkney has employed several long-term locums to help provide services. Now the drive is to find something more sustainable for the future.

“We have some vacancies in our main speciality areas and what we’re hoping to do is build up the expertise and enlarge the teams so we can expand the care we can offer to our patients,” says Kevin Fox, Associate Medical Director with NHS Orkney. “We’re looking for a great mixture of people. We want enthusiasm, judgement, and we want people willing to invest their energy and their time in improving the care that we offer, and building up the team that is NHS Orkney.”

Kevin is well-placed to discuss the benefits of working in Orkney. He is also a cardiology consultant with the local health board, but splits his time evenly with working in London at a large teaching hospital. “About three years ago I realised I needed a change,” he says. “I wasn’t quite sure what that was but then I saw an advert in the BMJ for a position here.

“I’ve been able to take positives from both sides of my employment. I’m keeping up-to-date with the latest developments through my work in London and I’m able to bring that to the care of my patients here, but I think also understanding how people work together as a team here, with objectives that are patient-focused, has been really important and I’ve definitely been able to take back to London.”

The work is very variable because it’s a small place and there’s enormous potential to get involved in lots of different things. The team-work aspect in the wider hospital just makes thing so much easier than in a big hospital - you can get things sorted out on a more personal level. You’re much more hands on here and you can get involved in the nuts and bolts. I think that means you can give a really high quality of care, and that’s really satisfying.

Kate Smith, Lead CT/Radiographer with NHS Orkney

The kind of flexible employment Kevin enjoys, with the advantages it can bring to both sides, is at the heart of NHS Orkney’s recruitment plans. Full and part-time posts are on offer, people can divide their time between Orkney and hospitals down south, or they can relocate completely. The recruitment team are keen to hear from anyone interested in tackling a different challenge, whatever their personal circumstances.

It’s expected that, post-pandemic, the possibility of working in a place like Orkney could become increasingly attractive to medical professionals, but the islands aren’t a place to slow down or stand still.

“There are real opportunities to grow and develop here,” says Michael Dickson. “It isn’t a case of coming here and losing your skills, it’s about coming here and delivering your skills in a really different way – often one that’s more patient focused.

Michael Dickson, Chief Executive of NHS Orkney

“We have beautiful landscapes, you’re not ever far away from the sea, it’s easy to travel and get around, and it’s safe. These are really important aspects, and they give you the chance to focus on the thing that’s most important - providing really high-quality care.”

The new consultant and GP posts will be advertised by NHS Orkney over the coming months. Visit the NHS Scotland recruitment site to see the latest job posts. The jobs page will also feature the vacancies when they're available.

Visit the NHS Orkney website to find out more about the organisation and its services. Newsletter

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