A Swansea University initiative dedicated to creating the next generation of Welsh medical professionals has been given a major boost by Welsh Government.

It released £700,000 to create a new medical education hub in Aberystwyth, adjacent to one of the town’s GP surgeries. The facility will be used by Graduate Entry Medicine and Physician Associate students from Swansea University’s Medical School, giving them an opportunity to learn away from a hospital setting.

It is hoped the hub’s location will help increase recruitment of medical students from rural areas leading to an increase not only in the number of rurally trained medical practitioners but also in the number of GPs working in rural Mid and West Wales.

The new facility would also enable current GPs to extend their academic portfolio, encouraging them to continue in practice.

Dr Heidi Phillips, Associate Professor for Primary Care, described the project as an exciting new addition to the Medical School’s existing Primary Care Academy track.

She said: “In the UK, 90 per cent of NHS activity occurs in primary care. However, undergraduate medical curricula are heavily focused on exposure of medical students to medical specialities in a hospital setting.

“In addition, both of Wales’ medical schools are centred in South Wales. This doesn’t represent the needs of the population in the rest of Wales.”

The new hub, on the Penglais campus of Aberystwyth University, will contain private and communal teaching and study space, a simulation suite, a clinical skills lab and communal facilities.

Students will be able to learn about the ways people present with health problems in an undifferentiated way, the basics of diagnosis, clinical reasoning and patient-centred medicine through a primary care lens.

The initiative recognises the health and wellbeing of the whole person where the patient, rather than the disease, is at the core of the learning. Dr Phillips said this will result in competent, confident and community-focussed practitioners.

She added: “In collaboration with Aberystwyth University, we are creating a hub for community rural medical education, through the creation of a modern learning and teaching environment.

“Initially it will be used for GEM and PA students but its vision is wider than this. Its future scope includes many health-related disciplines including medical students, pharmacy students, foundation doctors, GP trainees as well as other allied health professionals with a focus on inter-professional working. 

“The money is supporting the development of the site as well as the educational activities underpinning the model.”

Professor Neil Glasser Pro Vice-Chancellor: Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences at Aberystwyth University, said: “We are very pleased to have worked with Swansea University and the Welsh Government to bring this important collaboration to fruition. 

“We see this as a valuable opportunity to bring medical students into local health services – contributing to those services, the depth of experience students will receive and feeding into the local economy.  We look forward to seeing this project bring about benefits for our area and beyond.”

The Primary Care Academy model was piloted in Pembrokeshire in 2019-2020, where three students spent their third year based in general practice rather than hospital. Thirteen students enrolled in the PCA in 2020-2021, and this concept is now being rolled out across South West and Mid Wales, with students in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Powys.

Professor Keith Lloyd, Executive Dean PVC of Swansea University’s Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Science, said: “Our Primary Care Academy track aims to provide the highest quality learning experience for our students. We hope this will not only improve students’ understanding of the importance and rewarding nature of primary care but will also encourage them to stay in Wales when they start their careers.” Hywel Dda University Deputy Medical Director Primary Care and Community Services Dr Siôn James, who is a GP in Tregaron, said: “This is welcome news for Hywel Dda University Health Board and our local communities. Primary care within rural settings can provide such a fulfilling career. Enhancement of the learning and teaching environment within our patch can only assist us in attracting and retaining the best clinical staff for our population.”