NHS staff recruitment on Skye ‘hampered by lack of affordable housing’

The lack of suitable and affordable accommodation on the Isle of Skye is hampering efforts to recruit and retain skilled healthcare personnel within the community, NHS Highland has warned.

The health body said the issue is having an increasing impact on the provision of some essential local health and social care services.

Now health board management are calling on local knowledge for assistance, asking Skye residents to get in touch if anyone is willing to rent property or provide local accommodation solutions.

Specific concerns were brought into sharp focus this week when a recently-appointed highly-qualified midwife to Skye was very close to withdrawing from the post because she struggled to find suitable accommodation for herself and her dog. This was despite her making considerable efforts to find suitable housing and being extremely flexible over the choice of location. Jacqui Bradley, a fulltime midwife currently based in Edinburgh, had been appointed in December and is due to take up her post at the beginning of February.

With the Out of Hours Midwifery Service for Skye and Lochalsh suspended since mid-November because of the lack of qualified midwifery staff, it was crucial to recruitment a full-time midwife to allow for the full 24/7 restoration of the service.

Kate Earnshaw, NHS Highland’s district manager for Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross, said: “Happily, a solution has now been found for Jacqui and we are grateful for the help and suggestions we received from local councillors, the local Housing Association and others. However, we remain concerned about the ongoing challenges with a number of other posts we are about to recruit. For instance, we are interviewing for an advanced nurse practitioner next week and accommodation is, again, likely to be an issue.”

She added: “On top of that, we also have a number of other key posts coming up on Skye including: care at home worker posts in the North; an Hotel Services assistant manager post; Supporting Independent Living in the Community (SILC) posts for North Skye; and occupational therapist, social worker and practice nurse positions that we have been unable to recruit to. With other existing staff yet to settle into what accommodation is available, and a staff member recently resigning because of the lack of suitable housing, you can understand why we are keen to find affordable solutions to this issue.”

The Scottish Government has set a target of building 50,000 new homes in the Highland Region to meet demand.

Kate Forbes MSP told The Press & Journal: “There is a very serious shortage of affordable housing in Skye and Lochalsh, as average house prices are high.

“Housing is the number one most common issue raised with me and I’m fighting hard to get as many of the 50,000 new homes built on Skye.

“These need to be built in Skye and Lochalsh to support key workers like healthcare professionals.”

She added: “That is obviously only suitable over the longer term and for people like healthcare professionals.”

Councillor Calum MacLeod acknowledges that Skye could be a victim of its own success in the “tourism phenomenon”.

He said: “It is unfortunate that a side-effect of tourism is landlords turning to for let purposes. That is something we’re aware of, particularly regarding NHS workers.

“It will not be a quick fix but I would be looking to work with partner agencies such as Lochalsh & Skye Housing Association.

“We need to see if we can work in tandem with NHS Highland and see more connection with partner agencies.”

NHS Highland is now in discussions with the council, local housing associations, and local housing developers to see what more can be done to assist its frontline staff, recognising that other key workers in organisations such as the Fire Service and the private healthcare sector are experiencing the same problems. Meanwhile, anyone who knows of local affordable accommodation or who is willing to rent property to NHS Highland staff, should contact Kate Earnshaw on 01471 820600 or via email at kateearnshaw@nhs.net.