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New health centre for the Small Isles 

01/06/2016   |  North & West Highland 
 

Residents of the Small Isles of Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna have a brand new health centre.

A team from NHS Highland had been working on the conversion of the former doctor’s house on Eigg to a health and wellbeing centre.

Eigg’s newest resident, three-week old Bryn Lovatt, officially opened the facility on Friday during a special Community Health Fair on the island.

The director of operations for NHS Highland’s north and west operational unit, Gill McVicar, said at the opening: “Today is the celebration of work NHS Highland has been doing with residents of the Small Isles for a few years.

“The resident GP on Eigg passed away three years ago, and we needed to review the model of care for the people of Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna. It provided us with an opportunity to do something different.”

The model which NHS Highland and the residents settled on is one that is inspired by another remote community – only several thousand miles away.

“We worked with the community to find exactly what they needed, and we’ve put in a model of care that is developed from Alaska,” Mrs McVicar explained. “The Nuka model of health and care services was created, managed and owned by native Alaskan people.

“The approach has been designed to bring about results by communities working together to achieve positive outcomes. We identified and trained four health and social care support workers based in the local communities to deliver health care to people in the Small Isles. There are three based on Eigg and one on Muck.

“We borrowed the Alaskan community health aid model and developed it here in Highland. There are five levels of training they can undertake, ranging from basic to advanced, and the beauty of it is that it is delivered by people living in these communities. They know the people they are treating, and they are more likely to remain within the community for longer.”

The health and social care support workers are part of an extended integrated team that is supporting them from the mainland. “They report to the integrated team leader in Mallaig and medical care comes from Skye using our rural support team model,” explained Mrs McVicar.

“We have three GPs that visit all the islands on a regular basis. They travel to Eigg every week, and twice every second week, and visit the other islands every fortnight. Using this model, we have been getting to know the health needs of the populations and working with them to deliver sustainable high-quality healthcare.”

And it was the potential of the Nuka model of care that convinced residents to get on board with this innovative and creative way of working.

“We couldn’t imagine any other way of working than having a resident GP,” explained chair of the Small Isles Community Council, Camille Dressler. “We had to go through the process of exploring every alternative available to us.

“In doing so, we began to realise that the way GPs work has changed in the last 30 years. They are now very much part of a team, and the turning point was when we started to look at the Nuka model in a deeper way.”

Mrs Dressler continued: “We liked the idea of having more community involvement and more say in how our care was delivered. We may have lost a resident doctor, but we are gaining access to more services.

“I’m very happy that NHS Highland has committed so many resources and is committed to new ideas and innovation because we think this is where the future lies for rural medicine.”

It was a busy day on Eigg, as the Small Isles Community Health Fair was also held on Friday to mark the opening of the new health centre. NHS Highland healthcare professionals travelled to the island to deliver basic health checks, smoking cessation clinics and heart health sessions to the residents.

The senior medical director for quality improvement and chief medical informatics officer for the South Central Foundation in Alaska, Dr Steven Tierney, was a special guest on the day, and he was delighted to see the impact the Nuka model of care was having thousands of miles from home.

“We have collaborated with NHS Highland for some time now, and we found that we have so many similarities in terms of recruitment and retention of medical professionals in remote and rural communities,” he explained.

“One of biggest challenges in Alaska was finding GPs to work in such isolated communities – in some cases they would require a six-hour flight to get to these communities. 

“We decided to train people from within the communities to deliver basic healthcare, as they are adapted to the lifestyle of living in remote and rural Alaska, and they will remain in the community.

“It’s wonderful to have been invited to the opening of the Small Isles Health Centre and to see such community empowerment. The people of the Small Isles deserve a lot of credit for their resiliency and for embracing new ways of working.”

Further information

Andrew Devlin 
Communications Manager 
01463 704723