Difficulties remain in recruiting enough consultants for Belford Hospital

NHS Highland deputy chief executive David Park was asked about Belford Hospital staffing issues when he was in Fort William last week. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F26 NHS Consultation 02
NHS Highland deputy chief executive David Park was asked about Belford Hospital staffing issues when he was in Fort William last week. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F26 NHS Consultation 02

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With only one full-time consultant physician when there is meant to be four, it clearly continues to be difficult for NHS bosses to attract specialised senior clinicians to work full-time at the Belford Hospital in Fort William.

With an establishment for four consultants, NHS Highland confirmed to the Lochaber Times that currently the hospital actually only has the services of 1.8 WTE – this means one full-time consultant and 0.8 of another.

A spokesperson for NHS Highland told us: ‘The Belford has funding for four whole time consultant physicians, of which 1.8 WTE are in post.

‘The remainder are filled by a combination of long and short-term locum doctors. We are actively recruiting to increase the number of substantive consultant physicians working at the Belford Hospital.’

The Belford Hospital in Fort William. NO-F04-Belford-Hospital.jpg
The Belford Hospital in Fort William.
NO-F04-Belford-Hospital.jpg

NHS Highland deputy chief executive David Park was asked about Belford Hospital staffing issues when he was in Fort William last week to give the rescheduled presentation on the health board’s new flagship five-year strategy entitled ‘Together We Care’.

Over the past few months, NHS Highland has been engaging with its workforce, partners, communities and wider population to understand what it thinks it should prioritise for health and care delivery over the next five years and what it feels is important.

It says it had a great response from more than 1,700 people and an additional 45 informative sessions with community groups, pan-Highland population and partners to identify key areas that should be prioritised.

These have been turned into ambitions and a draft strategy generated. Over the coming weeks NHS Highland intends consulting again with partners and communities to listen again to their feedback.

Following that feedback, it will submit the final written strategy to the board meeting in July.

Members of the health board’s executive team are hosting feedback sessions, but last week saw only six people turn out at the Nevis Centre in Fort William to hear from Mr Park.

‘We get an awful lot of positive feedback from our patients and people and may people appreciate the care that is given to them,’ he said.

But one of those attending, who said she had 20 years’ experience in health care in Lochaber, said phrases being bandied about in the five-year strategy were nothing new.

‘None of these are new words – they are concepts we have heard for years – why are we still needing to hear about them?’ she asked.

Mr Park explained that the challenges facing the health board were not the same as they were five or 10 years  ago.

‘One advantage of a strategy like this, is that it give us something to aim towards and trying to pull together all of this in a single strategy.’

One of the aims of the strategy is to ‘excel at recruitment and become an employer of choice’ but Mr Park said it was a very challenging environment financially for the NHS generally.

Asked by the Lochaber Times if health chiefs were still trying to tackle the problems of recruiting consultants for the Belford and what that particular issue might mean for the Belford’s eventual planned replacement hospital, Mr Park said it had always been a challenge for rural areas to recruit medics with highly specialised skill sets.

‘They have got a lot of choice of places to go. It is about getting people to make a long- term commitment and that’s going to be really important going forward, getting people with the right skills sets.

‘Many come for experience, but if they have a young family, then they want to put their kids into the best schools. In reality people don’t move to Fort William just for the lifestyle – they want the lifestyle, which is fantastic here – but also the career and the issue is how we approach this bearing in mind both of these things.’

However, Mr Park flagged up information that highlighted a desire by many people, following the Covid lockdowns, to move to more rural areas like Lochaber and away from big cities.

‘More people do want to move to Highland, so the question is how do we make it a competitive career move as well as a lifestyle one. There’s a lot of work to be done.’