Search is on for new care staff for the Western Isles as shortages due to population change start to bite

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A surplus in the budgets of care services in the Western Isles is being committed to efforts to recruit new staff as recognition grows of the impact of shortages on local care services. 

The Western Isles Integration Joint Board (WIIJB), the body responsible for planning and funding a range of health and social care services locally, has developed a surplus of more than £6m due to an underspend in staffing budgets as a result of the numbers of vacancies, and larger than expected income from care home charges.

The surplus is comparatively the largest of any IJB in Scotland, and the organisation - a joint body of NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle - has now committed £750k to apprenticeship schemes in care and health services to bring new staff to the sector.

Dr. Ron Culley, Chief Officer of WIIJB, said: “The fragility of our care workforce is beginning to impact services and having made significant improvements in reducing delays for people in hospital waiting to get home, the lack of care availability is beginning to impact on the performance of our local health and care system.

“We are therefore focused on bringing new people into the care sector.”


A statement from the Comhairle highlighted that the IJB is required by law to develop and implement a workforce plan, and a Comhairle spokesperson commented: “Our plan was developed three years ago, and while good progress has been made, the scale of the challenge in respect of the health and social care workforce has grown.

“Vacancies are being experienced across almost all professional groups, and in some services this is beginning to impact our service offer.

“The decrease in the working age population is already starting to bite within the Health and Social Care Partnership.”

Comhairle figures reveal that the population of the Western Isles is expected to drop from a level of nearly 27,000 in 2017 to under 25,000 by 2027.


In contrast, by 2027 the elderly population (65+) is expected to rise by 44 per-cent, and the 20-64 age population is set to decrease by 17 per-cent.

There are currently more than 100 vacant posts across the local care system - twelve per-cent  of all those employed, and fifteen per-cent of the existing workforce is aged over 60, and within five years of retirement.

The care sector locally has a staff turnover rate of more than ten per-cent per year.

The Comhairle’s spokesperson concluded: “Our strategic plan sets out a plan for investment in additional staffing across primary and community care over the next three years. We will need to employ more mental health workers, pharmacists, reablement workers, link workers, community nurses, GPs, Advanced Nurse Practitioners, social care workers, health and care support workers, and physiotherapists.


“We anticipate that we might therefore need to grow the establishment by 40-50 posts over the next three years, to deliver on the primary care strategy and the proposed new care campus at Goathill.

“Within this context, we have sought to take corrective action, with the IJB setting aside £500k for investment in apprenticeships in social care and a further £250k to develop apprenticeships within the NHS – both of these are in the early stages of development.

“However, our message is clear, we want to engage our local labour market to maximise interest in the health and care sectors and to ensure that careers with us are as attractive as possible. We are also working with the Scottish Government to address these issues.”

Western Isles MSP, Dr Alasdair Allan said: “The shortage of care home staff in the islands is a real concern, and the impact of that can be felt locally. As with so many issues, this problem is inextricably linked to our demographic situation.

“Brexit will certainly not help this, if it has the effect of depressing the number of people coming here from Europe to work.

“There’s no quick or easy fix to tackling depopulation and its underlying causes, but there needs to be a constant focus on retaining our young people, attracting others to the islands and bringing more jobs here.

“Since the Western Isles Integrated Joint Board was created I have been dealing with significantly fewer constituency cases involving very extreme examples of delayed discharge.

“Despite ongoing challenges, we are not now seeing patients being left in hospital for many months on end for the lack of a care package.”


A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We know that rural areas face a range of complex challenges, which is why Eilean Siar Council received an additional £15.8 million above the standard formula share this year.

“We are continuing to work with key partners, including the Care Inspectorate, Eilean Siar, the health board and local health and social care partnership, to address recruitment and retention challenges and improve care across the region.”

Earlier in the week, an Audit Scotland report into the operation of IJBs across Scotland found that while ‘some improvements’ had been made to the delivery of health and social care services Integration Authorities, ‘councils and NHS boards need to show a stronger commitment to collaborative working to achieve the real long term benefits of an integrated system’.

Responding to the report, Dr Culley commented: “The Audit Scotland report indicates that IJBs across Scotland have started to introduce more collaborative ways of delivering services and have made improvements in several areas, but the report also indicates that there is much more to be done. This is a picture that we recognise locally.

“We have made improvements, and these have been independently confirmed by a Joint Inspection from the Care Inspectorate and Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

“At the same time, we know that there is much to do, and we are working very hard to further improve services and deliver a health and social care system that delivers care and support at the right times in the right places.”