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GP shortage ‘caused by Withybush downgrades’

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docsPEMBROKE residents have expressed concerns about reduced opening hours in the town’s doctors surgery as a result of a shortage of doctors. Since September 1, the surgery at St Oswald’s has closed at 1pm on weekdays. Until then, it had been open until 6.30pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The surgery, a member of the Argyle Medical Group which also has practices in Pembroke Dock and Neyland, serves Pembroke, Monkton, and a number of outlying communities in the area. The surgery in Pembroke Dock will remain open from 8am – 6.30pm.

However, concerns have been raised about how the reduction of provision in Pembroke will affect elderly patients, or those with reduced mobility. Speaking to The Herald, Practice Manager for the Argyle Medical Group Juliet Goldsworthy confirmed that the reduction in surgery hours was a deirect result of staff shortages: “We’re two doctors down at the moment – its a common problem across Wales,” she said.

Safety was apparently a major consideration for the shorter opening hours. The practice was unwilling to let one doctor work at the surgery alone. “Its about managing the surgery safely andwe can’t do that at the moment,” Ms Goldsworthy added.

When we asked how long the staff shortage had been a problem for, she said that the staffing shortages were ‘relatively recent,’ though admitted that they had ‘struggled on’ over recent months. However, staff holiday time had meant that they were unable to keep the current provision. “The first doctor left about 18 months ago, and we lost another one 12 months ago,” she added.

“We have been advertising in national publications, but haven’t had any response. Accepting that the situation for patients was ‘far from ideal,’ she said that the problem was an all-Wales issue. Ms Goldsworthy confirmed that the practice had 10.75 FTE (full-time equivalent) doctors.

There are around 25,000 patients registered with the practice, which equates to 2325 patients per GP. Several years ago, the average number of patients per GP in Wales was 1640, and while Ms Goldsworthy said that this had risen to around 1900-2000, she still acknowledged that Argyle Street still did not meet these levels.

“Its not ideal – it puts a lot of pressure on both patients and doctors,” she added. Ms Goldsworthy pointed out that Argyle Street employed full-time nurse practitioners, who worked supporting GPs, as well as a full-time pharmacist who could ease the burden on doctors with work related to medication. “We were one of the first practices to take on a full-time pharmacist,”she added. “The health board seems to be looking more at approaches like this now. I understand that patients hanker for days gone by, but times have changed.”

With regards to the opening hours at St Oswalds, Ms Goldsworthy told us that if two new doctors could be recruited the situation would be reviewed after six months. At present, she said that the practice has been advertising ways for those unable to drive to attend the Argyle Street Surgery to travel there more cheaply.

“Services like country cars, and public transport can save people money on taxis,” she pointed out. Ms Goldsworthy emphasised that the surgery would still be open in mornings, and that hopefully people who would struggle to get to Pembroke Dock would be able to attend then. “We do visit a lot of people at home, if they are unable to get out. Our visiting rates are quite high,” she added. She pointed out that a shortage of GPs could lead to a continuing problem, because constant staff-shortages would lead to an increased workload, and the job becoming less attractive for medical trainees.

“There is talk of a ‘Golden Hello’ in Wales, but I’m not sure what is going to become of that,” she said. Concerningly, Ms Goldsworthy agreed with other commentators, including Simon Hart MP, who has previously said that a reduction in service provision at Withybush will lead to a knock-on effect on the county’s medical community.

“As Withybush downgrades and less doctors come to work there, their partners, who often used to work in surgeries won’t come here either, leading to the health community shrinking. We had a doctor who worked with us who was fantastic, but his wife worked in paediatric care, and when the department in Withybush downsized she had to move to Swansea to find work.

“There may also be issues with GP training at the hospital.” Speaking to The Herald, MP Simon Hart agreed that Issues faced by Withybush Hospital were a definite contributing factor in staffing problems across the medical community in the area: “From what I can discover there is a definite connection between recruitment and uncertainty over Withybush. For once the problem is not entirely about money,” he said.

“For the County to be able to attract Doctors and their families, they need to assure them that the services have a future and that there is certainty as far as their jobs are concerned. The Welsh Labour Government continues to fail in this regard and our county suffers accordingly.” We asked Hywel Dda University Health Board whether this was a fair reflection, and what if anything could be done to attract more GPs to the county.

At the time of going to press The Herald had received no reply. A spokesperson for Hywel Dda UHB said: “We would strongly urge caution when drawing ‘definite’ links between recruitment issues at a hospital and GP level as there is no absolute or clear evidence for this. GP recruitment is challenging across Wales, this is well documented, and we are experiencing this in areas across Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion as well as Pembrokeshire.

“Whilst we are taking clear actions to address recruitment at our hospitals, we have numerous responses to recruitment challenges at a GP level. For example, we are in the process of developing a Primary Care Support Team to offer support to Practices with workforce issues to which we have successfully appointed a GP clinical lead and three Advanced Practitioners, due to start shortly.

“We are also supporting the development of other roles that can provide patient care in General Practice working alongside GPs. For example, Argyle Surgery have employed a practice based pharmacist to support the GPs on a day to basis. This is alongside developing portfolio GP roles to increase the appeal of working in the Hywel Dda area to those wanting diversity within their role.”

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A level results still high in Ceredigion

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THE ‘A’ level examination results published today by the WJEC (15 August) show that high standards are being achieved in Ceredigion schools once again. 97.9% of entries for WJEC examinations were graded A* to E, with 27.9% of the entries achieving the top ’A’ grades.

Ceredigion pupils continue to outperform the Welsh average. More pupils in Ceredigion achieve the top ’A’ grades and A* to E grades. The below table shows a comparison with average Welsh figures. These don’t include Welsh Baccalaureate results and those from examination bodies other than WJEC.

Wales 2019             Ceredigion 2019

Grade A* – A           27.92%                    27.0%

Grade A* – B           56.0%                      n/a

Grade A* – C          77.5%                        n/a

Grade A* – E          97.9%                       97.6%

Councillor Catrin Miles is the Cabinet member responsible for Learning Services. She said, “I would like to extend my warmest congratulations once again to Ceredigion’s sixth form students for their successes in this year’s A Level and AS examinations.

These results are the culmination of a long journey through school life which has seen them nurture and develop the academic and interpersonal skills that will enable them to move confidently into higher education, training or employment in fields of their choice. I wish them good luck for the future and would like to sincerely thank all who have contributed to their school journey in any way.”

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MP Ben Lake calls for reform of police funding

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HAVING recently shadowed Dyfed Powys Police officers in Aberystwyth, the Ceredigion MP has again urged the UK Government to review the police funding formula for rural areas.

Mr Lake visited Aberystwyth police station as part of the #GiveADayToPolicing campaign, a scheme for Members of Parliament to better understand the challenges currently facing police forces across the UK.

During his visit Mr Lake had the opportunity to experience a variety of aspects of local policing – from spending time with the neighbourhood policing team, meeting officers from different departments, and discussing policing challenges with front-line police officers.

Mr Lake has challenged the UK Government on several occasions to reform the formula for police funding – highlighting the need for the funding formula to take into consideration the seasonal pressures on forces, particularly the significant increase to the population of coastal areas during the summer months.

Mr Lake said: “I am very grateful to the officers of Aberystwyth police station for their welcome, and for taking the time to speak with me. I now have a better understanding of the challenges our police officers face, as well as a deeper level of respect and admiration of their work and commitment to public safety.

“As I have previously stated, we cannot expect a one size fits all approach to work effectively across the whole of the UK, and as such, it is imperative that the criteria used to allocate the Home Office police grant are revised so that they reflect the increased demands and unique challenges facing rural forces in areas such as Ceredigion, especially during summer months.”

Mr Lake added: “It is widely acknowledged that Welsh police forces have suffered under the present funding formula, and so it is high time that the UK Government either amends the formula accordingly, or devolves the responsibility for policing to the Welsh Government so that they may do so themselves.”

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New waste trial launched in Aberystwyth

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A NEW trial has been launched in Aberystwyth as part of the Caru Aber campaign, to help keep the town centre clean on waste collection days.

Heavy duty sacks will be placed on Aberystwyth streets on Monday afternoons before the black bag collection on Tuesdays in the following streets; Portland Street, Portland Road, Queen Street, Corporation Street, Eastgate Street, New Street and Cambrian Place.

Black bags should be put in the sacks by 8am on Tuesday mornings for collection. The intention is that the sacks contain the waste until it is collected. The sacks will be retrieved after the waste has been collected to avoid clutter and obstruction on the streets.

Councillor Dafydd Edwards is the Cabinet member responsible for Highways and Environmental Services together with Housing. He said: “We see this trial as a practical and relatively cost effective way of responding to long standing issues relating to domestic waste presentation in Aberystwyth town centre. The sacks will also provide a visible reminder to residents in the town centre on what days to present their black bags.

“The trial forms part of the Caru Aber campaign, and the wider Caru Ceredigion campaign, where the council looks to work with local communities to address issues which are of concern or are important to them.

“This innovative approach is another example of positive proactive action the council is taking. We hope that the residents of the town centre will play their part by making good use of the sacks as this will be the critical factor in measuring the success of the scheme.”

Clean recycling and food waste should continue to be presented on a weekly basis in the containers that the council already provides through clear bags and food caddies.

Ensuring that the right waste is presented in the right way and on the right day will help to make sure that the town’s streets are kept clean and that the waste is contained, managed and treated in the most cost effective and environmentally friendly way as possible.

The sacks were first used in readiness for waste collections on Tuesday 6 August 2019. The initial feedback is positive as they have worked to contain the waste on the streets, which were noticeably cleaner.

This latest initiative is developing on feedback and experience from two other trials undertaken. The success of the trial will be monitored on an ongoing basis and reviewed to reflect the experience which will include looking at ways of engaging all residents.

For more information about the new scheme, please contact the Customer Services Contact Centre on 01545 570 881 or by e-mail on clic@ceredigion.gov.uk.

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