Highlands & Islands

Advertising space: The postcard landscapes needing GPs

NHS Highland advert Image copyright NHS Highland
Image caption An NHS Highland advert seeking GPs for remote and rural areas

Urban doctors who fancy a complete change of lifestyle are being targeted in a new advertising campaign by a Scottish health board.

NHS Highland is looking for GPs willing to take up posts in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of Scotland.

Adverts will appear in Leeds later, the second English city targeted by health chiefs searching for doctors who want to "live the dream".

Image caption Dr Clare Whitney says rural GPs have the "luxury of time" with patients

Two years ago Dr Clare Whitney moved from an urban practice in Lancashire with 17,000 patients to Broadford in Skye, where she has just 2,000 patients and a brand new health centre.

"The first main difference I saw when I moved up here was having the luxury of time," she said.

"Longer appointments for every patient and being able to work with a much closer team, along with the lifestyle of living on the beautiful Isle of Skye."

Although living and working in some of the most stunning scenery in the UK sounds attractive, there are currently around two dozen vacant GP positions in rural parts of the Highlands and Islands.

Scottish GPs are put off applying for jobs in remote areas by levels of responsibility which are no longer required in urban practices.

Image caption Dr Whitney moved to Skye from Lancashire

Dr Whitney said: "There are practices where you would be working your evenings and being on-call overnight, and being on-call up here is very different.

"It has been the case where we have been first on-scene to a road traffic accident where you're managing the casualty with what you have available to you at that time.

"Ambulances are scattered a little bit more widely up here so it may be 20 minutes or half an hour before an ambulance can come along."

'Golden hellos'

In the last year, NHS Highland has spent £1m on locums to cover a vacant GP practice in Thurso at the very top of the Scottish mainland.

Later this month, it will start a regular boat charter to take GPs from Skye to treat patients on Muck, Eigg, and Rum who have been without a resident GP for two years.

However, NHS Highland hopes to capitalise on the unusual aspects of the job, along with extra funding, to encourage doctors in search of a different lifestyle.

It has employed the services of an advertising agency based in Jersey to promote life on islands and other remote communities. Some positions come with "golden hellos" as a cash incentive to doctors to take them up.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption NHS Highlands is using the landscape of the Highlands and Islands to try and lure city GPs north

NHS Highland's operating manager Gill McVicar said: "We are taking an opportunity presented by doctors in England being a little bit disenchanted with some of the changes which have been happening in the English health service.

"We thought we would give this a go in the north of England and see how it goes from there."

When asked whether the health board is poaching English GPs, Ms McVicar said: "Absolutely. Our view is that some of these people will be moving anyway and we would like to encourage them - if they are considering a change - to consider the Highlands."

A previous advertising drive in Liverpool last month yielded six inquiries from doctors who said they would consider applying for jobs in rural practices in the future.

There are currently vacancies in the Small Isles of Muck, Eigg and Rum, the Kintyre peninsula, rural Argyll, and Arisaig and Mallaig on the north west coast. Three GPs in Skye are also due to retire in the next few years.

More on the story will be aired on You and Yours on BBC Radio 4 at 12:15 on Monday.

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