Surgery closures and number of GPs employed show ‘changing face of general practice’
Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
The number of GPs employed across Gwent – and the number of surgeries which have closed in recent years – has been revealed in a Freedom of Information request, showing the changes taking place across the region.
Figures provided by the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board show the changes taking place across general practices in the region.
Thirty-two practices across Gwent have closed or merged since 2014.
The figures show there are now 504 GPs working across Gwent’s health board area, equating to a full-time equivalent of 280.6.
Of those, 81 are employed across Monmouthshire, with 46 in the north and 35 in the south of the county.
Judith Paget, chief executive of Aneurin Bevan University Health Board who responded to the FOI, said that “the face of general practice is changing”.
“This is largely due to the GP workforce issues in recent years, but also reflects the changing needs of the population,” Ms Paget said.
“In recent times, general practice is evolving from small local GP practices to larger health and wellbeing centres with average list sizes in excess of 10,000 patients.
“It is on this scale that a wider skill mix can be explored, and prudent health care explored.”
Chepstow councillor Armand Watts, who submitted the FOI, said he has concerns over people having to wait long periods to see their GP.
“It’s not a criticism of GPs who have worked hard throughout the pandemic,” he said.
“The concern I have is people are telling me they are waiting up to four weeks for an appointment.
“During the pandemic there have been a lot of changes and a telephone appointment may be fine for things like minor ailments or signposting.
“But Chepstow has an elderly population and a lot of those people who have not been able to have face-to-face appointments have seen their relationship with their GP diminished.”
In the FOI response, Ms Paget said the health board acknowledges that GP recruitment has “experienced difficulties in recent times”, particularly among smaller practices and those which work across several sites.
“Recruitment also remains a challenge in the Gwent valleys area and where practices operate in more deprived areas,” she said.
Working at larger scale is key to supporting the sustainability of practices, Ms Paget said.
This also offers opportunities for larger practices to have a wider skill mix of staff, allowing patients to be seen by the most appropriate health care professional.
Ms Paget said the role of the public in making the right choice when seeking help is also important.
“A cultural shift is also required to recognise that a GP, or the GP surgery, is not always the most appropriate professional or location for every issue that doesn’t require hospital attendance,” she added.
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