Shetlands get broadband upgrade to support local NHS services

Shetland Islands Council is to receive £1.91m of funding to expand full-fibre broadband expansion to NHS sites on remote islands through the government’s Local Full-Fibre Networks initiative

Shetland Islands Council has been awarded a £1.91m slice of the government’s Local Full-Fibre Network (LFFN) challenge fund to expand full-fibre – also known as fibre-to-the premises (FTTP) – broadband services to public sector sites on the outlying northern islands of Unst and Yell.

With just over 23,000 inhabitants spread across 16 islands – out of a total of over 300 – the Shetlands are a challenging environment in which to deliver the most basic of public services, so the council put together a bid with assistance from FarrPoint, an IT consultancy organisation, focusing on how local full-fibre networks can deliver next-generation healthcare services.

This includes providing digital telecare and home monitoring services, empowering the local GP surgeries on Unst and Yell, and enabling elderly residents to stay in their homes, on their islands, without having to fly or catch ferries to receive routine outpatient care – there is only one hospital on the islands, located just outside the capital, Lerwick.

“This is good news for the North Isles, which have historically suffered from poor broadband and connectivity, while other parts of Shetland have seen upgrades,” said Alastair Cooper, chair of the Council’s Development Committee.

“This is a positive improvement for public services in Yell and Unst, which lays a foundation of connectivity that can be extended to domestic and business premises in the future.

“We hope the R100 initiative will help deliver domestic and business connectivity in the near future, too.”

The R100, or Reaching 100%, programme is run by the Scottish government and is committed to delivering superfast (over 23Mbps) broadband connections to every single premises in Scotland by the end of 2021.

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Darren Kilburn, principal consultant at FarrPoint, which has previously advised on over £2bn of investment in connectivity and has helped deliver broadband services to over 250 villages in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, said the award demonstrated the power of local knowledge and an understanding of what island communities need from government.

“This project will make a huge difference to the Northern Isles and supports the long-term viability of Yell and Unst communities by ensuring inhabitants retain heritage and culture while having access to the most reliable and future-proofed public services through digital connectivity,” he said. 

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