Scotland's islands: proposed national plan

The proposed National Islands Plan provides a framework for action in order to meaningfully improve outcomes for island communities. It was replaced by the final National Islands Plan (published 27 December 2019).

Health and Social Care and Wellbeing

Access to health and social care should be as local as possible for the whole population of Scotland, no matter where they live. We recognise that the changing nature of care and the increasing complexity of needs are just some of the challenges that must be met to ensure fair, accessible healthcare for those on islands. By focusing on a more joined-up, anticipatory and preventative care model based in the community, the aim is to improve care and support for people to live active healthy lives in their communities for as long as possible. Whilst health and social care integration requires services to be redesigned so that we can continue to maintain our focus on reforming and improving people’s experience of care and achieve better outcomes, this will be done in response to the needs and choices of people and communities, based on real local understanding.

Having access to good quality health and social care services underpins living on Scotland’s islands and is important to both maintain population and attract new residents. We recognise that everyone in Scotland, including residents of island communities, has a right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Ensuring that health and social care services are readily accessible and of a high standard, will involve building on the current policy frameworks for health and care services in Scotland which are designed to ensure sustainable services which are safe, effective and person-centred. This includes, but is not limited to, the Quality Strategy, the National Clinical Strategy and the Health and Social Care Delivery Plan and Digital Health and Care.

Many respondents to the consultation highlighted strengths of local healthcare provision including the building of new hospitals and the personalised service given by their community General Practitioners (GPs). A range of good examples of local healthcare initiatives were identified including the Grubby Huts initiative on Shetland focusing on mental health stigma, befriending initiatives on Lewis, Arran and Lismore, and care for the elderly provision on Westray, Barra, Bute, Arran, Lismore and South Uist. However, the consultation also highlighted concerns from islanders about perceived centralisation of healthcare services; both in terms of access to certain services being moved to the mainland or the population centres of larger islands. Some islanders told us that there were a limited number of health and social care professionals whose skills and expertise often needed to be shared if communities are to have local access to the widest possible spectrum of care.

Consultants and surgeries are now all based on the mainland making for a lot of worry and stress especially for families with young children and our older population. Not everyone can afford a car to travel to appointments.
(Consultation participant, Arran)

SG Policy

Permanent and rotating island GPs and community nurses also require different skills from those working in more urban settings. They are likely to do a wider range of work whilst often working in isolation. In addition, on a small island, they can be on call 24/7 for weeks at a time. The 2018 General Medical Services Contract sets out a new direction for general practice in Scotland which aims to improve access for patients, address health inequalities, improve population health, and reduce GP workload through the expansion of the primary care multidisciplinary team. However, the Scottish Government recognise that remote, rural and island communities face distinct challenges in delivering primary care services, particularly in recruiting and retaining clinicians, and in ensuring sustainable service delivery.

The Scottish Government established a Remote and Rural General Practice Working Group, chaired by Sir Lewis Ritchie, in June 2018 to provide advice and develop recommendations on ways to ensure that the views of island-based clinicians and communities are better recognised in primary care policy development. The Group supports a range of initiatives including “Golden Hellos” (which provide financial incentives to work in remote and rural communities), Rediscover the Joy in General Practice, a programme to attract GPs to work across Orkney, Shetland, Western Isles and Highland communities by tailoring posts to suit the candidate, as well as funding digital developments such as Attend Anywhere (also known as NHS Near Me), a programme for supporting the roll-out of technology and training to enable web-based video consultations and access to specialist services without the need to travel.

In its first year, the Group has carried out an extensive programme of engagement across Scotland. This shows that despite significant challenges, rural healthcare providers are delivering high quality care by embracing progressive, innovative solutions and adapting clinical roles to maximise recruitment and retention. The Group is considering opportunities to develop a national centre for excellence in remote, rural and island health and social care, that will build networks and share knowledge with and from other countries who face challenges in delivering high quality, person centred and sustainable care for patients living on Scotland’s islands.

The population demographic on many of Scotland’s islands is shifting to include a much larger percentage of older residents which raises challenges in the delivery of key services. Islanders told us that a lack of available on-island support in terms of both home care and assisted living/care homes can result in older residents having to leave the island in their later years. Consequently, much of the heritage and culture that the older population bring to the community is being lost, whilst family units are also being put under strain due to being separated from their older relatives. We know most older people wish to remain in their own home as they age.

Tagsa Uibhist is a voluntary organisation in the Southern isles of the Outer Hebrides providing support for carers, people living with dementia and vulnerable people, allowing islanders to live well in their own homes for as long as they want and can. The organisation also continues to develop Community Growing hubs across the islands as part of the Government’s Climate Challenge Fund project “Grow your own community”.

The health and wellbeing of people on our islands is also a product of their ability to make daily choices that keep them fit and well, both physically and mentally. Whilst the high quality natural environment on our islands is acknowledged in National Planning Framework 3, our approach to new development and improving our places remains strongly supportive of the provision of places for children to play safely, places for recreation and high quality design which makes places attractive to be in and well connected by walking, cycling and public transport.

SG Strategy

The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 will require, once the relevant section is commenced, planning authorities to prepare and publish open space strategies. These will set out a strategic framework of the planning authorities’ policies and proposals for the development, maintenance and use of green infrastructure in their area. They will have to include an audit of existing open space provision, and an assessment of current and future requirements. The Act also introduces a new duty on planning authorities to undertake an assessment of the sufficiency of play opportunities in their area for children, to inform their local development plan.

During the consultation, islanders told us that in many instances sports centres act as community hubs, which improve both the physical and mental health of island residents. The Community Sport Hub programme brings together sport clubs and community organisations to develop and grow sport at a local level. There are already established Community Sport Hubs on many islands. The Scottish Government believes that there should be no barriers at all to participating in sport and physical activity – everyone should be able to access opportunities to be active, whoever they are, wherever they live and whatever their background.

SG Policy

Our Active Scotland Outcomes Framework sets out the shared vision and goals which have shaped the approach the Scottish Government and a wide range of partner organisations have taken to supporting and enabling people in Scotland to be more physically active. The Outcomes Framework is supported by our Active Scotland
Delivery Plan which aims to cut physical inactivity in adults and teenagers by 15% by 2030 using wide-ranging approaches including active travel funding, support for both formal sports and informal physical activity, and partnership working across the transport, education, health and planning sectors.

Strategic Objective 7

To improve and promote health and wellbeing

In order to improve and promote health and wellbeing the Scottish Government will:

  • Continue to work with NHS Boards, Local Authorities and Health and Social Care Partnerships to ensure that there is fair, accessible health and social care for those on islands;
  • Identify and promote good practice, especially as regards the improvement of services in islands and other remote areas;
  • Continue to support the extension of NHS Near Me/Attend Anywhere, and other digital health initiatives, to reduce unnecessary travel and enable more care to be delivered on Islands;
  • Work with stakeholders to develop propositions for a national centre for excellence in remote, rural and island health and social care;
  • Work with stakeholders to ensure that we develop a plan to adequately support the aging population of island communities so that they remain active, connected, engaged and have access to suitable, quality opportunities;
  • Support relevant local authorities to plan and develop sports facilities on the islands that respond to the needs of communities;
  • Promote participation in sport and physical activity by ensuring national programmes such as Active Schools and Community Sport Hubs are serving island communities, and continuing the Island Athlete Travel Award Scheme; and
  • Work with Orkney Islands Council and other partners to use the hosting of the 2023 Islands Games by Orkney to strengthen sports development on the island.



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