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Whilst there is no internal market in NHS Wales, we aren’t immune from market forces. The challenge of medical recruitment is not confined to Wales; it is a UK-wide problem. Indeed, the NHS in Wales is working to attract doctors at a time when other countries in Europe are also experiencing shortages in some specialties.
However, there are many reasons why it makes sense to live and work in Wales. The outstanding coastline and countryside, for one. The fact that the NHS in Wales runs along very different lines and with a different ethos to the NHS in England is another. However, I don’t accept the argument that changing the names of our health boards would make a big difference as we compete to attract ambitious medical professionals. The key to this is the quality of our training.
Cardiff University is reacting to this challenge with the biggest transformation in medical education since the School of Medicine was founded. The C21 Programme is modernising undergraduate medical education to attract and retain the very best doctors for Wales, with training that will equip them with heightened patient empathy and excellent scientific understanding. The programme is providing high quality teaching, increased clinical contact and more community-centred learning. Studies show that medical students who train in underserved areas are more likely to return there to work after graduation. We are already seeing the benefits of this programme, in the newly opened Academic Centre at the Keir Hardie University Health Park in Merthyr Tyfil. Medical students training at the centre will benefit from community-based training and placements with mental health and addiction specialists, as well as working in local GP practices. Medical students will also be trained as part of multi-disciplinary teams, as we develop a more prudent approach to healthcare.
We know that to address some of the recruitment challenges we face, the time and expertise of doctors must be freed up to concentrate on those patients who really need to see a doctor and ensuring that all members of the team are operating at the top of their clinical competence. Nobody should be seen routinely by a consultant when their needs could be appropriately dealt with by other members of the healthcare workforce.
The driving force behind recent service change in Wales has been to ensure NHS services are safe and sustainable, so that doctors see sufficient numbers of patients in order to train and to maintain their skill levels. One of the benefits of reconfiguration is that specialists in certain fields will be brought together in centres of excellence, providing opportunities for better training as well as better quality care.
Each year the Welsh Government invests more than £350m supporting more than 15,000 students studying a range of health-related programmes across Wales. Of this £350m, more than half is spent on medical and dental education and training. Wales is full of innovation and there are real opportunities for doctors to be part of and lead these developments. Wales is a great place to live and work - and it’s a great place to train.