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Drakeford claims GP ‘success’

Crisis? What crisis?: Mark Drakeford does not like the ‘c’ word .

A SERIES of Welsh Government Ministers has recently appeared on Welsh news programmes proclaiming that the Welsh Government is hitting its target to deliver GP services across Wales.

However, with around ten unfilled GP vacancies in Pembrokeshire and further vacancies in Carmarthenshire, the pressure on rural GP services is intensifying across the local health board area.

Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford has claimed: “Figures show we are continuing to deliver on our commitment. It is clear that GP surgeries across Wales are working hard to take steps to extend opening hours beyond 5pm and to avoid closing for half a day a week and they are making more appointments available to everyone. But further improvements can be made. In particular, where there is an assessed need for working people to see a GP during working hours, we are working with GPC Wales – the group which represents GPs in Wales – and health boards to encourage ways in which access can be improved.”

His words were not borne out, however, by remarks addressed to the Local Medical Committee Conference by GPC Wales Chair Charlotte Jones. Referring to her previous speech to conference speech, Dr Jones said: “In July, I stood at National Conference as a ‘damsel in distress’ outlining how the profession was flat on its back with its legs in the air and that Wales needed a resuscitation plan to revive it. Well conference, I am still a damsel last time I checked, and still quite distressed at seeing the strain faced by GP teams, but through our refusal to give up on a lifeless General Practice, we have continued with mouth to mouth and hard hitting CPR (i.e. Continued pressure for resources – financial and manpower) and it seems there is a glimmer of life on the heart monitor.”

With the focus increasingly being put on GP out of hours services (OOH) supporting and in some cases replacing accident and emergency care at hospitals, Dr Jones commented: “We continue to highlight the gross underfunding of OOH services across Wales and the concerns about sustainability of that workforce.”

Dr Jones continued: “Whilst there are some green shoots of recovery, more momentum is needed. If the NHS in Wales loses its GP workforce then it will be the biggest disaster it has ever had.”

With statistics suggesting that a quarter of Wales’ GP’s could retire within the next five years, The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in Wales has pointed to a ‘desperate workplace crisis’ with too many GPs leaving on the one hand and a slump in the young medical graduates looking to train as GPs.

Dr Paul Myers of the RCGP said it’s ‘quite staggering that Wales has the lowest number of young doctors in GP practice as part of their second foundation year – just 24% compared to a 55% average across the UK. In the north west of England, 95% of students get a taste of working as a GP.”

Health economist Prof Marcus Longley reported on challenges to hospital and GP services in mid Wales and compiled a 200-page report in October last year. Prof Longley said he was struck by the ‘generally poor morale’ amongst many GPs who felt the service changes were not enough to meet the scale of the challenges they faced.

In January a Plaid Cymru Freedom of Information Act request disclosed the Welsh Government in 2013/14 had spent only £1,000 on advertising on doctor recruitment — which was 40 times less than the previous calendar year’s amount of £45,326

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While Mark Drakeford has claimed that talk of a crisis might make the problem of GP recruitment worse, it is difficult to detect precisely how the Welsh Government intends to recruit at all if it gives such low priority to doctor recruitment.

Dr Charlotte Jones said: “At the moment we know we are not training enough GPs just to stand still. We are in the recruitment crisis now.”

She concluded: “It would be seriously naive to think somebody else can do all the jobs that GPs currently do. We need to urgently look at solutions to retain the workforce that we have got.”