A senior north councillor believes Syrian refugees could help ease NHS Highland’s staffing crisis.
Local authority leader Margaret Davidson wants health chiefs to consider offering jobs to people who have been forced to flee their homes in the strife-torn country
NHS Highland is faced with an ongoing recruitment crisis and the idea has already won support from other politicians.
The north health board has struggled to attract suitable candidates for a range of posts in rural hospitals.
The scale of the problem was laid bare at NHS Highland’s annual review this week when it was claimed Caithness General Hospital was in “meltdown”, with eight consultant posts vacant.
The hunt for staff has led the board to run campaigns in the north of England and Holland, with limited results.
There is also a shortage of home carers in the north.
Independent councillor Davidson said she believed suitably qualified refugees could find jobs in the health service.
The idea emerged as councillors debated what could be done to ease the deepening humanitarian crisis.
Mrs Davidson said: “We believe, from speaking to people on the ground, that many of the refugees are health professionals.
“There is so much goodwill with people and it would be good to get going with things. We are waiting to hear from the UK Government how it will work.”
She added: “We are doing our best to help and there is a key issue of a shortage of a qualified workforce in certain parts of the Highlands.
“It might be possible to do skills matching, but the big priority is to make sure these folk are safe and then can get a roof over their heads.”
Mrs Davidson said a further meeting would take place tomorrow to discuss what practical assistance could be given to refugees arriving in the Highlands.
Mary Scanlon, Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said she thought the health professionals idea was one worth pursuing.
She added: “I think that Margaret Davidson has identified an opportunity for qualified Syrian refugees to fill posts.
“I think it is a reasonable request that refugees are using their skills in secure, paid employment.
“But I think it would be unacceptable to set a qualification limit on refugees or to say they are only allowed in provided they have certain qualifications.”
Rhoda Grant, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said that while there would be people among the displaced population with relevant qualifications and experience, it was more important to help them settle in Scotland after their ordeal.
She said: “These people will probably be a boost to the communities that take them in. But I am not sure we should be screening them on the basis of what they do.
“We should help them to settle before thinking about what they can do. The priority is to help them because they are in dire straits.”
NHS Highland is continuing to pursue efforts to recruit medics from the Netherlands.
An advertising campaign in May attracted responses from six Dutch doctors, including a GP, a paediatrician and an anaesthetist.
Since then, two doctors have visited Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
Highland Council has told Cosla that it is willing to play a part in any government-arranged Syrian resettlement scheme.
The local authority also met north-based charity Blythswood to discuss its work to support the refugees.
The NHS said any overseas doctor who wanted to work in the UK must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) before they can apply to work in the health service.
An NHS Highland spokeswoman said: “In order to work in this country you need to be registered with the GMC.
“Applicants would be considered if they were registered and had suitable qualifications and experience.”