A new medical school is a must if Wales is to tackle the acute shortage of doctors facing the country, according to a new report.
'Tackling the Crisis', an independent report commissioned by Siân Gwenllian AM, states the case for a third Welsh medical school to be located in Bangor. It claims that the training and recruitment of medical staff is at crisis point in many parts of Wales, particularly rural and north Wales, and that a rurally based medical school is a vital part of an all-Wales approach to tackling the problem.
The number of students from Wales applying to study medicine has fallen by 15% in five years – a steeper drop than in the rest of the UK - and north and west Wales have fewer GPs per 10,000 population than the rest of the country. In 2015–16, 50% of consultant physician posts in north Wales were unfilled and in February this year it was revealed that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board had spent £21m on agency medical staff in 11 months.
Pointing to examples in the USA, Australia and Norway, the report highlights that medical training is fundamental both to the recruitment and retention of doctors, especially general practitioners, in rural areas.
Siân Gwenllian said: "There is an urgent need for a third medical school in Wales to meet the growing needs of communities across the country, especially here in north Wales and other rural areas.
"With many doctors reaching retirement age and not enough young people being trained here, health care services are already facing huge challenges. This report provides further evidence that a new medical school is a major part of the solution to make sure that we have enough doctors in the future.
"Across the world, governments are responding to similar shortages by increasing training opportunities. In rural areas, which face very similar problems to Wales, new training institutions are being founded. These medical schools are being established in the rural areas themselves – adapting existing structures simply does not work."
She added: "There is an opportunity to establish a medical school in north west Wales, building on the resources of Bangor University’s School of Medical Sciences and the resources of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. A medical school in Bangor would help attract recruits from rural Wales, would embed students in rural areas at an early stage in their training and help retain practitioners in rural areas. The school could also specialise in rural medicine and train practitioners for work in bilingual communities."
There are 136 GP training places per year provided by NHS Wales. In its document Transform General Practice (2016), the Royal College of General Practitioners Wales has recommended an increase to 200 places with the aim of 500 more full time GPs in Wales by 2021-2022. NHS England is already responding to its own recruitment shortage with an increase of 1500 medical student places and new private medical schools are coming on line in England
As stated in the report, Professor Dean Willliams, Head of the School of Medical Sciences at Bangor University and Consultant Vascular and General Surgeon at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor, estimates that relatively few extra academic staff would be needed for a new medical school as currently there are research scientists within the School of Medical Sciences and a large number of excellent clinical teachers already exist in North Wales. However, new appointments would be joint clinical/academic appointments, helping to attract high quality consultants to the north Wales hospitals.
Dr Dylan Parry practices in Old Colwyn and is a campaigner for GP recruitment, a GP trainer and a NHS Champion. Sharing his experience of recruiting staff, he is quoted within the report: “I have tried to attract GPs to north Wales by showing how attractive the area is to live and work and the high quality of life we enjoy here.
"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. As it is, the first rounds of recruitment in Wales tend first to fill training places along the M4 corridor."
First Minister Carwyn Jones last week responded to a question raised by Siân Gwenllian in the Senedd regarding the business case for a north Wales medical school which is currently being prepared by the Welsh Government. He said that a statement will be made soon but that any decision regarding the matter would have to make sure that any plans are "sustainable".