By Alex Garrick-WrightFebruary 26th 2018

Anyone thinking of moving to Shetland will obviously need to consider the local healthcare. Fortunately, Shetland is well provisioned for the health and social care needs of this small but vibrant community; here are some of the most important, practical queries for people thinking about a life on the isles.

Do I have to pay for healthcare in Shetland?

As with the rest of Scotland, healthcare is free at point of use from NHS Scotland. Health spending in Shetland is £2,404 per person in the isles, higher than the Scottish average.

Where can I register with a GP?

Shetland has 10 GP surgeries across the isles, and although certain areas are remote, almost everyone has a GP within a reasonable distance.

The Lerwick Health Centre is the largest surgery, serving Shetland’s largest town with nearly 9,000 people registered. In addition to GPs, the Lerwick Health Centre utilises an innovative system of Advanced Nursing Practitioners - senior nurses who can deal with minor or straight-forward medical issues on the day, freeing up GPs’ time for more complex cases.

The south Mainland is served by the Levenwick Medical Practice, while over on the Westside there are surgeries in Scalloway, Walls and Bixter. The north of Shetland is provided for by the surgeries in Brae and Hillswick, while residents of Yell, Unst and Whalsay have surgeries on their own islands.

Smaller islands, such as Fetlar and Fair Isle, do not have their own surgeries, but do have nursing provision and residents can be registered at the closest GP surgery.

Image taken from an interview with ANP Stacey Donnelly, from our dedicated Island Medics site.

Are there hospitals?

There is one hospital, the Gilbert Bain, on Lerwick’s South Road. It is across the road from the Lerwick Health Centre, with bus stops just outside and a 156-space car park.

In 2015/16, the Gilbert Bain treated over 4,600 in-patients, and nearly 17,000 outpatients.

What kind of treatment can I get in the Gilbert Bain?

The Gilbert Bain serves the entire of Shetland with an A&E department and medical, surgical and maternity wards. It also has dental suites, and a drop-in sexual health clinic on Monday evenings.

While outpatient procedures and minor surgery can be performed in Shetland, serious or complex cases are often sent to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary or the Aberdeen Maternity Hospital before returning to Shetland for recuperation and further treatment. If you have to go down south for treatment, the NHS will usually pay for the patient’s travel (but not always for anyone accompanying).

Will I be able to find an NHS dentist?

There are multiple dental clinics in Shetland that take NHS patients. In Lerwick, the main practice is the Montfield Dental Health Centre, although due to high demand Montfield is not registering new patients. The Lerwick Dental Practice, on Market St, has started registering NHS patients.

Dental patients in the north can register at the Brae Dental Health Clinic, while for outer isles residents there are also the Whalsay and Mid-Yell Dental Clinics. Outreach clinics are also taken to other island communities on a regular basis.

Two of the local medical professionals who took part in the recent BBC series, Island Medics.

Where can I find a pharmacy to dispense my prescriptions?

There are multiple pharmacies in Lerwick that dispense prescriptions and sell over-the-counter medications; Boots (on Commercial St) and Freefield Pharmacy (on Burgh Road). The Gilbert Bain Hospital also has a dispensing pharmacy.

Outside of Lerwick, there is the Scalloway Pharmacy and the Brae Pharmacy. Residents further afield can pick up their prescribed medicine from their local health centre, or in some cases have it arranged to be sent to a local shop for collection.

Are there opticians?

Yes, there are multiple opticians, all based on Commercial St in Lerwick- Kelly Opticians, Miller Opticians and Specsavers.

Can I access mental health services in Shetland?

Absolutely. NHS Shetland’s Mental Health Team, based in the Lerwick Health Centre, run a number of mental health services that are accessed by referral from a GP.

These include psychiatric services provided by a permanent on-island psychiatrist, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, Psychiatric Therapy, Substance Misuse and Recovery, as well as memory assessments and dementia services.

I have children. What kind of healthcare is there for kids and families?

For new parents and young children, there is a health visitor service that will help you look after your little ones’ health and give them the best start in life. The health visitors carry out a range of duties including ante-and-post-natal visits, breastfeeding education, child health clinics, help with common baby issues such as sleeping or weaning, parenting skills, and even help with housing benefits and financial advice.

Health visitor appointments can be arranged through local GP surgeries, and they can be met either at the surgery or in your own home.

For older children, there is the School Nursing Service that looks after the physical, emotional and mental health of pupils. The nurses not only perform the ‘traditional’ school nurse duties such as head lice checks and vaccinations, but also provide advice on sexual health, diet, stress, sleep issues, relationship problems and self-harm.

The school nurses run drop-in clinics in schools or, alternatively, appointments can be booked via the school office, and the nurses are directly contactable via phone or email. The service is completely confidential unless the nurse feels that a pupil is at risk of harm, in which case they will tell the pupil who they need to inform and why.

Below you can find links to some services and healthcare providers that you might find useful.

Medical practices

Dental Services



Mental Health Services