NHS Shetland is continuing to struggle to fill a slew of GP and other vacancies as it strives to bring its £1.7 million bill for temporary staff down amid unprecedented financial pressure on its resources.
That also happens to be the estimated sum the health board needs to find to bridge the funding gap it faces in 2018/19.
The use of temporary, or locum, staff has more than quadrupled in the past four years. In 2017/18 GPs will account for around half of the overall bill, which has mushroomed from £386,950 in 2014/15 to an estimated £1.7 million this year out of a £55 million budget.
Chief executive Ralph Roberts acknowledged at a board meeting on Tuesday morning that NHS Shetland is not yet in a position to set a budget with fewer than six weeks remaining until the new financial year begins.
He said it felt like possibly “the most challenging year that we’re going into” and if locum costs cannot be addressed “that will make next year even more difficult in terms of sustaining services with locums and then having to make other decisions to cover it”.
Board members heard from human resources director Lorraine Hall that NHS Shetland has redoubled efforts to attract staff to live and work permanently in the islands in recent months.
Following further talks with the Scottish Government in early March, Roberts said he was hopeful the board would be able to agree a financial plan for 2018/19 at its next meeting on 20 April.