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Workforce and recruitment dominate GP concerns

Delegates of Welsh birth attending the Welsh LMCs conference in Chester this weekend were warned that it was still legal for archers to shoot them within the walls of the English city. And with the current workforce crisis in Wales, they could not afford to lose any more good GPs.

This was said in jest, but the conference was dominated by concerns over recruitment and the effect of the new GP contract.

The GP leaders attending the conference said practices were ‘close to or at the point of workload saturation’ and were facing a recruitment ‘crisis’ that needed an urgent solution.

The conference also voted that the Welsh Government’s expectation for care to move into the community was deemed impossible at a time when there was uncertainty about the future of MPIG and enhanced service funding streams.

The inability of many practices, especially those in rural areas to recruit GPs heightened tensions, with talk of practice closures and GPs anxious over how they would cope. GPs at the meeting said that traditional complaints such as the differential in pay between Celtic and English GPs felt even more unjust, and ‘Just Say No’- to unfunded non-GMS work from secondary care, health boards or the private sector, became the catchphrase of the conference.

Delegates opposed the Department of Work and Pensions’ changes to the benefit system, saying that they will create ‘severe distress’ to patients and families already suffering deprivation, as well as putting more strain on GP services who are expected to provide evidence in support of a patient’s appeal.

Other big issues included a call for the Government to review the cost effectiveness of community pharmacists providing flu jabs. GPC Wales chairman Dr David Bailey said that his practice had administered more flu jabs all of the community pharmacists in Wales combined, and other LMC leaders said scheme meant community pharmacists picked off the easier patients, leaving less convenient ones to GPs.

Other bugbears raised included concerns over GPs having to manage complex medications for patients with mental health and the Welsh Ambulance Services, whose general performance was considered under par as their responses were too slow and the practice of queuing outside A&E to hand over patients meant there was a lack of availability of emergency ambulances.

LMC leaders also insisted that lessons should be learned from the sites piloting the NHS 111 number in England before they are implemented in Wales, and said that the poor communication from hospitals to GPs was a ‘patient safety issue’.

Though the concerns voiced were serious, the mood was largely positive, and the LMC leaders seemed to agree that GPC Wales could make headway with these issues.

While Welsh GPC chair Dr David Bailey admitted that the day of industrial action had been ‘a bit of a PR disaster’ he said he was proud that they had managed to moderate calls for enhanced opening hours next year and the Welsh Government understood that any DES would have to be properly funded.

Although this would be Dr Bailey’s last GPC Wales conference, he confessed to Pulse that he would be standing for a position as a national GPC negotiator next year.

Finally, the conference voted to return to Wales next year to avoid any marauding English archers, saying: ‘The conference urges that any further conferences are held within Wales to prevent such dangers, especially given the current manpower crisis.’

Madlen Davies is a journalist at Pulse