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John Woollacott: From pharmacist to Falklands Director of Health and Social Services

Sitting down with Social Care Today, John Woollacott discusses how he worked his way up to becoming the Director of Health and Social Services and why he decided to move away from England.

John Woollacott – Director of Health and Social Services

How did you begin your career in healthcare? 

In 2008 I qualified as a pharmacist in the UK and then I was fortunate enough to work in hospitals, the community and even in academia. However, on 1st January 2012, I was browsing a jobs website, and found an advert for a position on the island of St. Alena. They wanted a pharmacist to go and set up a service there and I thought this sounded more exciting than the job I was doing.  

Why did you end up moving to the Falklands and did you always plan on working your way up to becoming the director of health and social services?

St Alena has got a very strong link with the Falkland Islands, because we’re both British territories and we’re both in the South Atlantic. However, St. Alena doesn’t have a particularly strong economy, so people of working age often leave and go to places like the UK, the Ascension Island or they go to the Falklands.

Whilst I was working in St. Alena people were talking about how beautiful it is in the Falkland Islands so, after a few years, I applied for a job to start running my own pharmacy.

The Falklands

Although, after Covid hit my whole life changed. The Falklands has a population of around 3,700 people and about 80% of them live in Stanley which is the capital. Because we have such a small population, we all had to fill in for various roles to help out when the pandemic hit. We needed someone to be a hospital manager for a short period of time, so I took on the role. I then became the hospital manager when the post became vacant, which is where I stayed for a couple of years and then last year, my boss, who was the former director of health and social services, resigned so I applied and was successful.

To be honest, I don’t have much of a background in social care, I’m more experienced in healthcare, but because the Falklands is so small, our health and social care services are all integrated into one organisation, which has not only helped me learn things on the job, but it means we all work together really well.

What’s the biggest difference working in care in the UK to the Falklands?

The biggest difference is that we’re a self-governing territory which means we have our own laws and legislation. This means that the CQC doesn’t inspect us here because they’re not a regulator for us.

In addition, social care over here is needs assessed rather than income assessed. This means that once a person has been examined, we will provide the care that we can within the capacity that we’ve got. The system is good because we don’t have to apply to the council to get funding and we don’t expect any payments from the individual as their care is payed for by the government.

Another huge difference, which has turned into a bit of a challenge, is how cut off we are. We’re 1000 miles from the UK and although we’re located off the cost of Argentina, we don’t have any relations with them because of the conflict that happened in 1982. This constraint is largely felt when we try and implement certain health practices for locals and can’t because of limited funds. For instance, only a few people can have the luxury of having an orthopaedic surgeon all year round.

Yet, we have introduced Tussac House to help change this.

Can you explain what Tussac House is and how it will help?

The development will be the first purpose-built care facility in the Falklands, and it is expected it will cost around £90 million and will open later this year. The idea came after we realised, we don’t have ability to provide endless nursing homes and care facilities to help the ageing population, so Tussac House is going to be very much integrated under one roof model, where within one facility you’ll have different levels of care being provided.

Tussac House is set to open later in the year.

There will be accommodation, which is more of a sheltered housing approach, there’ll be rooms in there which will house residents that need be more of a nursing home level of care and there will also be an area which is more like a dementia unit. In addition, we are also looking at installing some space for respite care, where people can be admitted for short periods of time to give friends and family a break from looking after them.

How will you staff this new development and is recruitment something the Falklands is particularly struggling with?

Recruiting people to work in health and social care is a challenge that is currently being faced everywhere in the world, but our approach will be to advertise overseas. We do have some locals that are trained as doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, but because our population is so small, we won’t be able to fill all the vacancies by advertising locally.

When it comes to social care, we employ two different types of workers predominantly, which are community support workers who specialise in home care, but when Tussac House opens a lot of them will move to work there. The second type of worker we have are residential support staff, who work with individuals with learning disabilities that require a little bit of assistance to live independently on a day-to-day basis.

Overall, our healthcare vacancy rates aren’t as critical as the UK, but because we have a strong economy down here one of the biggest challenges is losing people to other private sector jobs that pay better.

What are the benefits of working in the Falklands, do you plan on staying?

One of the big attractions to working here, I think, is our small scale and the way that we have integrated services together. This means that health staff can follow a patient’s journey and develop a more personal relationship with them, unlike in the UK where patients are constantly admitted to different services.

Another benefit has been getting to experience the development of health and social care services in the Falklands. Like everywhere in the developed world, we do have an ageing population, but our proportion of adults over 65 is slightly lower than the UK. However, over the next 10 to 20 years, we are expecting a growth in demand for health and social care services.

Aside from health and social care, I think the wildlife you experience here is one of the best things about the island. When I first moved to the Falklands, I tripped over a seal accidentally when I was walking through some long grass which prompted me to read up about the nature. We have five species of penguin, elephant seals, sea lions, leopard seals and dozens of different bird types.

One of the many types of seals found on the island.

Since moving to the Falklands it constantly feels like I’m on a working holiday because there are so many positives, like the wildlife, and to me, the benefits of working and living here strongly outweigh the negatives. During my time, I have come to realise that the Falklands is a bit like marmite, you either love it or you hate it, but in my case, I’m not sure I’ll ever leave.

Images: John Woollacott and ONE Creative environments

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