By Toby SkinnerAugust 25th 2021

Shetland needs more dentists. A move to Shetland could mean the opportunity to learn fresh skills on the job, or to run a successful practice, all while discovering the unique joys of Shetland life.

Brian Chittick, Director of Community Health and Social Care at NHS Shetland, knows what arriving in Shetland for work is like. He’d been a dentist in the Royal Navy for 20 years, and was working for the Sultan of Brunei’s army when he saw an advert for a dental officer role in Shetland.

“It was less of an adjustment than some people think,” he says of his move in 2015. “I didn’t miss M&S or Waitrose. And I soon realised that there are so many work opportunities here, whether at clinical management level. There’s a chance to hone in on areas of semi-specialist interest that you wouldn’t get on the Mainland.”

Brian knows how much Shetland needs more dentists to do the same. “We’re always trying to make sure that Shetlanders have as much choice as possible, and as good a quality of service as you’ll find anywhere,” he says.

We’re always trying to make sure that Shetlanders have as much choice as possible, and as good a quality of service as you’ll find anywhere.

Brian Chittick

According to Antony Visocchi, who took over from Brian as NHS Shetland’s Director of Dentistry last July, Shetland needs 8-10 more dentists, especially independent dentists. “On the Scottish Mainland, around 80 per cent of dental work is done by ‘high street’ dentists, with the NHS backing up with more specialist care for people who really need it,” he says. “In Shetland, it’s almost the other way round. We have a wonderful team here, but that means a lot of strain on the public service, which is having to do general and specialised dentistry.”

He hopes to get more dentists coming to do both. More good quality public dentists at NHS sites in Lerwick, Brae, Mid Yell and Whalsay, but also more dentists who will come and open their own clinics or work with existing ones.

When it comes to high street dentists, both Antony and Brian say that there’s strong local demand, with an extra incentive from grants like the Scottish Dental Access Initiative, which has identified Shetland as an area with unmet demand. Because Covid has meant private dentists (who make a living through fees) can’t get through as much as work, Antony has been looking at the possibility of a hybrid model where general dentists get guaranteed salaries like in the NHS.

There are also big benefits for public dentists moving to Shetland. NHS dental workers can gain access to a Remote Area Allowance worth up to £9,000 a year, as well as additional formal training and support. “Because we need to keep developing the skills of our staff, we offer training as part of the package,” he says. “Bigger health boards are far less likely to do that. In most of the UK, you’d have to enrol yourself on a course and try to fit work around it.” For example Joanne Peat, a recent arrival from Glasgow, is studying for an MSc in Clinical Dentistry at Edinburgh University while working at Lerwick’s Montfield clinic. The idea is that if Shetland dentists get better training, more treatment can be done on the islands.

Because we need to keep developing the skills of our staff, we offer training as part of the package. Bigger health boards are far less likely to do that.

Antony Visocchi

Antony, who is currently preparing to welcome eight dental students as part of an outreach programme for undergraduates, says that all arrivals in Shetland should expect a warm welcome, just like he received after taking up his post. “The dental staff here are fantastic. They do their job with real quality and integrity, and are so welcoming. But so too is the wider community, which I think is more appreciative of good service than in most places. It’s very much the Shetland way to just have a positive, can-do attitude.”

Then there are the benefits of life on the islands. “Shetland really does have something for everyone,” says Brian, originally from Belfast, who plays the bagpipes and coaches junior and senior Shetland rugby teams. “There’s so much to do, and an amazing community which everyone contributes to. When we lived in London, my wife and I could go months without speaking to neighbours. In Shetland, we’ve arrived home and found that our neighbour has cleaned our kitchen, just because she knows we’re busy.”

Brian lives in Walls, a little village on Shetland’s west side, and his journey to work is different to anything he had while working in London or Glasgow. “The drive is so beautiful, and is an instant way to de-stress. I can feel myself connecting and disconnecting from work on the drive, and when I’m working from home I’m just looking out over the water. Life is good.”