How can Wales attract more GPs?

Wales's health service could find itself in significant difficulty if it doesn't replace some of the doctors preparing to retire, according to a leading GP.

Wales has the highest proportion of GPs aged over 60 in the UK, with almost a quarter either at or approaching retirement age.

Dr David Bailey is a partner at a surgery in Caerphilly and is getting ready to retire. He thinks more needs to be done to support an already over-stretched service across the UK.

"There simply isn't the number of doctors there to actually run a service in a safe way - in Europe, people see an average of 25 patients a day, in the UK it's closer to 40. That degree of stress means more and more people choose to work less than full time, just to try and protect their mental health."

Dr Bailey, who also speaks on behalf of the British Medical Association, says the last two years have created huge challenges for the industry, making it harder to attract new recruits to the profession.

Dr Bailey, is one of the many GPs in Wales who are at retirement age

"I'll be 65 very shortly and I just think that's probably long enough but a lot of people came back during covid because they felt responsible, most of those are going to go back into retirement.

"Covid has been massively stressful for all doctors in primary and secondary care and we're hearing more and more that people are feeling burnt out.

"So morale is low, partly because of covid because of the difficulties there have been and that inevitably will impact on recruitment over the next three years."

Figures from the Welsh Government in December 2021 showed that over half (58.2%) of fully qualified GPs in Wales are female, with 41.8% being male. 90.8% of female GPs were part-time, compared to 74.9% of male GPs.

At present, the Welsh Government has a target of training 160 GPs a year. However the British Medical Association believes that number needs to be much closer to 200, if the service is going to keep up with the demand of patients.

Swansea University's medical school that plays a significant role in helping people get ready for a career as a GP. Paul Jones, the course director says he believes the Welsh Government needs to work on ways to encourage students to carry on their career here in Wales post-education.

The Welsh Government currently provides incentives for students to work in areas across Wales under the Targeted Enhanced Recruitment Scheme, once they have graduated from medical school and started GP training.

Mr Jones said: "We have a big bulge of GPs who are coming near to retirement age and it is a concern that we can't provide the services we need in the community. But I think part of that is increasing the numbers and also making it attractive to work, to try and retain them in Wales.

"We know from the evidence that by putting students in or immersing them in an area, they're more likely to want to work there in the future.

"So I think trying to get more opportunities for them to experience places like North Wales, Mid Wales and West Wales - it's the attraction of the countryside of the sea, and obviously it's a different style of life than living in a busy urban area."

Jenny Hein is part of the next generation of aspiring GPs studying at the medical school. Despite seeing the pressure put on the service over the last two years, she wants to leave her mark in the role.

"There's a big shortage of GPs in Wales as well as the rest of the UK so going into GP will help solve that problem.

"There's obviously a big backlog of patients from the pandemic and a big strain on the NHS, so going forward to work in the profession I will hopefully have a bit of an impact."

She says she likes the holistic nature to the role of a GP and working within the community.

"I really like the variety you get in GP, you get patients coming in with absolutely everything.

"I like that it's not just a medical specialty, you're also finding out what the patient thinks might be wrong with them, addressing anything they might be particularly worried about and also what they're hoping for."

Jenny Hein likes the idea of becoming a GP and the holistic nature to the role.

For Jenny she also wants to stay in Wales and be a GP.

"I've fallen in love with Wales, I've been here for four years now in Swansea and everyone's so friendly, I've really enjoyed my time. It's got lovely nature here as well, it's a short drive from the Gower and the beaches, so I'm hoping to stay in the Swansea area, perhaps a little further out but definitely within Wales."

The Welsh Government says it is working to encourage more prospective GPs to train and work in Wales.

A spokesperson said: " There has been an upward trend in the number of GPs working in general practices across Wales in recent years. In the last three years we have not only achieved our GP training target of 160 places a year but exceeded it by 90 places.

"Our Train Work Live marketing campaign and associated financial incentives for GP training, which includes a financial incentive of £20,000 for trainees in north Wales and parts of west Wales has helped us to achieve this."

See more on this story on Sharp End on Tuesday, May 14, at 10.45pm on ITV Wales. You can also catch-up here.