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Plans to ease GP recruitment crisis with new medical school

Ongoing GP recruitment woes has inspired the Welsh Government to consider opening a new medical school in North Wales.

The Welsh Government told Pulse it is currently reviewing the case for a new school, and will be in a position to announce its decision ‘in the coming weeks’.

It comes as a new report recommends placing a new medical school in Bangor, North Wales – over contenders Cardiff and Swansea further south.

Tackling the Crisis – a new medical school for Wales’, commissioned by Siân Gwenllian AM, argued that there was an opportunity to establish a medical school in north-west Wales, building on the resources of Bangor University’s School of Medical Sciences and those of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.

The report, carried out by research firm Gwasanaethau Golwg, highlights a number of facts that mean recruiting GPs in rural Wales is tougher than in other parts of the UK. It says that:

  • north and west Wales had fewer GPs per 10,000 population (6.4) than the other home countries in 2015;
  • in rural Wales, GPs are ‘on average older and closer to retirement than in other parts of the country and recruitment is lower’; and
  • there has been an 11% fall in the number of GP partnerships in Wales over the last decade, from 496 in 2006 to 441 in 2016.

A new medical school would help attract local students into the profession and encourage them to stay in the region, says the report.

Dr Karen Penry, a GP in Aberystwyth and GP training programme director for Aberystwyth’s three-year GP Vocational Training Scheme, told the report’s researchers: ‘There are serious recruitment issues locally – the last few times our practice has advertised, we have not had a single applicant. Attracting someone who speaks Welsh is even more difficult, even though we understand that communication in a patient’s primary language is critical.’

Dr Dylan Parry, who practices in Old Colwyn, said: ‘If students were able to study here in the early phase of their training, that message could be conveyed more effectively. Evidence shows that embedding students in a rural community for a period of time increases the likelihood that they return there to work.’

Dr Phil Banfield, chair of BMA’s Welsh Council said: ‘This report clearly sets out key areas for consideration and will help to inform the debate around how we can best tackle the ongoing recruitment and retention challenges faced across NHS Wales.

‘We hope that the Government will give appropriate consideration to this body of evidence, taking a measured view as to the feasibility and potential impact of a third medical school in Wales.’

A Welsh Government spokesman said: ‘We are already looking at the provision of medical education and training in North Wales, including the case for a new medical school. We expect to be in a position to announce our decision in the coming weeks.’

The call for a third medical school comes as the recruitment crisis in Wales reaches a critical stage.

Pulse recently reported that GP leaders in Wales were forced to offer guidance to practices after a number had to hand back their contracts to health boards after failing to recruit GPs.

And in October last year GP leaders said they have ‘grave concerns’ about the future of general practice after a survey revealed that 82.1% of respondents to a Welsh GPC survey said they were worried about the sustainability of their practice.

The Welsh Government launched an incentive scheme last year in which GP trainees in Wales will have the fees for their final exam covered. Those in areas suffering recruitment difficulties will also receive a £20,000 golden hello, dependent on them staying in Wales for their first year of practise.

The incentives are due to come into force from August this year.