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Drive to recruit doctors for NW Sutherland fails

By SPP Reporter

Fiona Duff
Fiona Duff

EFFORTS to recruit family doctors to north west Sutherland have failed despite the offer of lucrative inducements.

NHS Highland has revealed that a recruitment drive to find more than one GP for the area had not attracted any candidates.

The posts were advertised with a salary of up to £83,617 and a golden hello incentive as well as an attractive relocation package.

NHS Highland primary care manager Fiona Duff said health chiefs would now be "considering all the options" and meetings would be held with community leaders in the area.

The need for new GPs was sparked by the retiral of single-handed Durness GP Dr Alan Belbin (61) two months ago.

Dr Belbin ran an "old-school" practice, providing 24-hour cover to the 290 patients on his list and running drop-in clinics.

On his retiral he warned that north and north west Sutherland could be facing a health care crisis within 10 years because of the number of GPs in the area who are due to retire during that period.

Local people this week expressed disappointment at the outcome of the recruitment drive and urged NHS Highland to redouble its efforts to find a family doctor for the village.

NHS Highland took over responsibility for the Durness practice following Dr Belbin’s departure and have since sent locums to provide cover.

At the same time a six-week advertising campaign was launched to find more than one salaried general practitioner to work across north west Sutherland.

Managers did not seek to replace Dr Belbin as such and made it clear that, while any new incumbents would be based in Durness, they would work as part of a team across a number of locations including Kinlochbervie and Scourie which is covered by another single-handed GP, Dr Anne Berrie.

It was hoped that team-working would make the posts more attractive.

Ms Duff said: "The board’s plan was that salaried GPs — that is employed by NHS Highland — would be based in Durness but work across a number of locations.

"They would form part of a team which would include nurses, pharmacists, allied health professionals and administrative staff, as well as the Scottish Ambulance Service, to provide in-hours and out-of-hours care in the area.

"We saw this as an exciting opportunity for GPs to play a key part in the development of a multi-disciplinary team to provide high-quality services to people in one of the most beautiful parts of the country."

As well as the inducements on offer, NHS Highland said it was happy to receive applications from newly-qualified as well as experienced doctors and would also consider flexible and part-time working hours as well as full-time.

Ms Duff said that the failure of the recruitment drive meant that discussions would now need to take place on future health care and adult social care provision.

She said: "This review is predicated on a clear need for changes, not least in view of NHS Highland’s determination to move away from single-handed GP practices, the challenging situation of care-at-home provision in north and west Sutherland and plans to replace the Caladh Sona care home at Talmine by Lairg."

Durness Community Council chairman Scott Macpherson told the Northern Times: "We are disappointed that no applications have as yet been received and will be discussing the matter with NHS Highland.

"We hope that NHS Highland will continue to search for applicants and explore all recruiting avenues in respect to this position.

"It is very important to the Durness community to have a resident doctor, not only for routine surgery appointments but also for emergencies.

"Durness is two hours by road away from a hospital, and ambulance response times average 45 minutes.

"The lack of a fully trained doctor in the area is literally one of life and death. As such we will continue to push NHS Highland to fill this position as a matter of urgency."

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