After finding that the number of GP practices in North Wales remained at its lowest level since 2011 last year and asking the Welsh Government for decisive action, Janet Finch-Saunders, Assembly Member for Aberconwy, has spoken out in shock at the Minister for Health and Social Services’ response that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is not actively encouraging the opening of new GP practices.
“The number of GP practices in North Wales have fallen by 10 in the last 8 years. The turbulence such closures have caused across Wales is apparent when considering that more than 45,000 patients have had to find new GPs in the past five years.
“This has directly affected constituents in Aberconwy, with practices closing in Conwy and Penmaenmawr – resulting in residents having to travel further and out of their community to see a doctor.
“With such a decline in the number of services and the mounting pressure on existing GPs it is unsurprising that I am hearing of residents being unable to get appointments on the day.
“Whilst I do not doubt that the main action needed to address this situation is the training of more medical professionals in North Wales, I am shocked that the Welsh Government have totally given up on opening any new practices here.
“More so, the Minister for Health and Social Services is clearly out of touch with the situation in Aberconwy when considering his statement that there is already an efficient distribution of practices to meet the population’s needs. Indeed, how can this be right when considering that communities such as Penmaenmawr and Dolwyddelan have been left without a surgery”.
Written Assembly Question:
What steps are being taken to encourage the opening of new GP practices in north Wales, and will the Minister clarify how the number of surgeries directly managed by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board will be reduced? WAQ78064 (e)
Response by Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services:
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is working with the existing 105 GP practices in North Wales to ensure sustainability of ongoing services by encouraging and supporting them to work closer together. The Health Board is not actively encouraging the opening of new GP practices in North Wales as there is already an efficient distribution of practices to meet the population’s needs. The Health Board is working to support GP practices across North Wales, with a focus on attracting new GPs to the area. There are several recruitment initiatives underway. We are working in close collaboration with GPs to address the challenges of GP recruitment and work continues with Health Boards to move managed practices back to independent status to ensure a more sustainable solution. The Health Board also recognises that in some instances GP practice accommodations needs to be replaced and/or upgraded. The focus is therefore on the sustainability and development of the GP Practices already in place rather than the opening of additional ones.
Whilst managed practices are not the Health Board’s preferred approach, particularly as they tend to rely on the use of locums which incur higher costs, they are necessary where GP partners cease to run practices and the Health Board steps in to ensure continuity of services for patients. There is currently a need to accommodate both independent contractor and Health Board managed practices.
We are currently undertaking a programme of reform for the General Medical Services contract to address the sustainability issues in general practice, whilst transforming service delivery to align with A Healthier Wales. We are reducing risk for GPs and the recent introduction of a state-backed indemnity scheme is an example. Moving forward, we will continue to work with the BMA to explore where there is a greater opportunity to support practices to avoid direct management being necessary.