Orkney MSP Liam McArthur today urged the Scottish Government to do more to help young people from island communities access university medical courses.
Speaking at education questions in Holyrood, Orkney’s MSP claimed island residents face additional hurdles in gaining the work experience necessary for being successful in applying to Scotland's medical schools.
He highlighted the issues of confidentiality in smaller communities where prospective students may know patients, which mean that work experience has to be sought elsewhere. In turn, this inevitably increases travel and accommodation costs and can result in students being away from school for days at a time, when they need to be studying to get the grades they need.
Responding to Mr McArthur, the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, confirmed the Scottish Government currently supports pre-entry medical courses that “enhance access” for applicants from remote and rural areas.
The Minister also agreed to meet with Orkney’s MSP to discuss the specific challenges faced by island residents.
Mr McArthur, alongside Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, is in currently involved in ongoing discussions with NHS Orkney, NHS Shetland and various medical schools to address these issues.
Following the exchange in Parliament, Mr McArthur said:
“Island health boards face specific challenges when recruiting and retaining staff. All the evidence shows, however, that students with a rural or island connection are more likely to work in rural or island areas.
“Government, our university medical schools and island health boards need to be doing all they can, therefore, to remove obstacles and provide tailored support to encourage more people from the islands to access these courses.
“I welcome the recent steps that have been taken, outlined by the Minister, but we need to ensure there really is a level playing field. This is in the interests of prospective medical students in the islands but will also help the local health boards attract and retain the staff they need.
“So I look forward to continuing productive discussions with the Minister, local health boards and the medical schools to address any remaining gaps in provision".