Thursday, 3 November 2016

Far beyond the wall

It is rather odd to think that patient power means bumping into your Member of the Scottish Parliament in Tescos, having a whinge about service changes, and causing deep difficulties in the whole local mental health service for months and years afterwards.

But Shetland is a very different and interesting place - and it feels like many things there hold promise for better services than we rather grudgingly have to accept south of the border. It is also curious how it all feels more European than it does Scottish - in our hotel all the staff were from various places in the EU, and none from the Scottish mainland.

Terminal 5 at Heathrow meant we could use the pod car park and driverless bubbles to get to departures and security. Three of us bundled up there via Aberdeen - in less time than it sometimes takes to get to Bristol or the other side of London. It was a normal plane as far as Aberdeen, then a tiddler with two propellers across the water. We had a great welcome at the Sumburgh airstrip - our bags got the wrong plane - but Fiona was offered a job doing the customer relations there. Apparently, most people on Shetland have two or more jobs. It's probably because there just aren't enough people do do all the things that need doing - so they share it all out. What's the point of hanging around at the tiny airport all day when there's post to be delivered, roads to be dug and patients to be seen? Then we picked up the hire car, waited at the traffic lights to cross the runway, and took the road to Lerwick; our luggage arrived a few hours later.

Two days of back-to-back meetings with numerous clinicians, managers, voluntary organisations and service users were each started with an hour or two's drive across the wilderness - to see the sun rising over the North Sea, and the spectacularly wild and windswept coastline. On the Friday afternoon, we put our heads together to draft our initial conclusions - and present them to the managers who had commissioned the report. Then home, via Edinburgh which was only just under half way back, to the space-aged pods and the boring and busy old South-East.

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