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Welsh GP training recruitment ‘boosted by junior doctor strike’

Exclusive The recent junior doctors’ strike in England has helped areas in northern Wales to recruit more trainee GPs, North Wales LMC has said.

Dr Sara Bodey, vice chair of North Wales LMC, said that a change in how people apply for GP training has also helped it reduce unfilled training places.

In 2014 and 2015, the three GP training schemes in North Wales – Wrexham, Dyffryn Clwyd and Bangor – were all unfilled, Bodey said, with Wrexham only filling two out of eight available places last year.

But this year Wrexham and Dyffryn Clwyd’s GP training is full, although there is still a shortage of trainee GPs in Bangor.

Dr Bodey put this down to a number of reasons, including a tweaking of the application process which meant prospective GPs have been encouraged to apply for the precise region where they want to work.

But she also said: ‘I think we have benefitted from not being England and therefore not having the fallout from the junior doctor dispute.’

Her comments come as the number of doctors applying for foundation programme training places in Scotland increased by 27% this year, which doctors’ leaders said at the time was down to the threatened junior contract imposition in England.

In April, eight in ten junior doctors in England went on an all-out strike for two days in protest about a new contract, following withdrawal of all labour except urgent care on dates in March and January.

And, although the dispute is now currently on hold pending a vote of junior doctors on a deal reached by the BMA and Government in England, fears remain regarding the dispute’s impact on morale of existing and prospective junior doctors.

But, although positive news for north Wales, Dr Bodey said this recruitment round alone ‘is not going to address the recruitment and retention crisis we have in GP workforce in North Wales’.

She said: ‘Clearly this is overall a very positive change and I think it reflects a few things – certainly allowing applicants to specify a scheme rather than having to apply to the whole of Wales has encouraged applications from those who want to base themselves either in North East Wales or in the North West of England.’

‘However], we have been underserved with GP training places compared to the South Wales cities for years, and we haven’t even been able to fill the spaces we had until now so there is a great deal of catching up that needs to happen if we are going to ride out the current situation.’

She said there is also ‘still work to be done’ in getting more people to apply for GP training in Bangor but that it may be harder to attract applicants to  rural area. She said this was partly due to concerns about the ‘perceived need to be Welsh speaking which does anecdotally put off potential applicants from England and isn’t true’.

The GP recruitment crisis

It comes as the shortage of GPs is increasing across the UK, with Pulse’s latest vacancy rate survey showing that about 12% of all GP posts in the UK are vacant – the highest proportion recorded.

The Pulse survey of 690 GPs found that 11.7% of posts are currently vacant, up from 9.1% last year and 6.4% in 2014.

Meanwhile, across the UK, almost one-third of GP training places remained vacant after the first round of recruitment.

After the first round of recruitment for August 2016 showed that 2,296 of places were filled across the UK – 70% of all places.