Posted: Fri 23rd Feb 2024

Health Minister ‘hopeful 8am bottleneck’ for accessing GPs ‘has gone’ – as new local recruitment highlighted

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

The Health Minister has said the ‘volume of complaints in relation to GP access has come down significantly’, and she is ‘hopeful that 8am bottleneck has gone’.

Alongside the assessment of the traditional early morning scramble for GP access, the Minister detailed ‘a number of posts being offered to five clinical lead GPs and 18 salaried GPs’ in the Flintshire and Wrexham areas.

The comments came after a statement in the Senedd from the Health Minister Eluned Morgan marking 12 months since she placed Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board into special measures.

In a lengthy speech the Minister noted, “…the key question is: what difference is this making for people living in north Wales? Well, they should take comfort from the fact that performance in the board is improving. The health board has reported a 65 per cent reduction in the number of people waiting more than three years for their treatment to begin, between February and November 2023. The number of those waiting over 52 weeks for their first out-patient appointment has fallen by over 15 per cent in the same period. Also, there has been a 33 per cent reduction in the number of people waiting over eight weeks for their diagnostic tests. I do appreciate that people are still waiting too long, but things are moving in the right direction.”

Darren Millar MS responded, noting “… information shared by the health board yesterday was that 10 reviews have been undertaken—10 reviews into services, with recommendations. We haven’t seen one of them published. Where do we go to see what those reviews are? You’ve made reference to reviews finding all sorts of horrors that people need to get to grips with today; I haven’t seen any of these reviews, nor has anybody else in this Chamber, nor, more importantly, have the public, who pay for these services and have a right to know how those services are performing.”

The Minister did not give a precise reply, stating “I think, certainly, there’s more transparency”.

Later in the debate Jack Sargeant MS asked a local question from an Alyn and Deeside, and north Wales, position, “However important the changes at the top are, at board level—and they are crucially important, as you’ve described—they mean less to them than how easy is it to get a GP’s appointment, how easy is it to get a dental appointment, or how long they and their loved ones are waiting on the list for treatment. So, with that in mind, what more can you update the Chamber on with regard to the progress on those issues, the issues on the ground?”

The Minister replied with some local data, “I think you’re absolutely right; it’s all very well that we need to change the culture at the top, we need to change the organisation, but actually what is it that matters to the public. What they want is access on time to a service that they require. That’s why I’m really pleased that, actually, in terms of general practice, not just in Betsi but across Wales, what we have now is a new approach to access to GPs—and let’s not forget that 90 per cent of people access the NHS via primary care and GPs.

“Ninety-one per cent of practices in north Wales were achieving 100 per cent of access standards by 31 March last year, so I think that is something that is commendable. So, things are improving. You may have noticed—I’ve certainly noticed in my postbag—that the volume of complaints in relation to GP access has come down significantly. There is still a way to go. Eight per cent of practices even in north Wales still need to comply with that. We’re building on investment in digital infrastructure and there’s additional investment in staff resources across the whole of Wales. So, I’m hopeful that that 8 a.m. bottleneck has gone.

“In terms of recruitment, we’ve got to make sure we focus on recruitment of GPs to those surgeries. I’m very pleased that a recruitment campaign meant that Wrexham and Flintshire have seen a number of posts being offered to five clinical lead GPs and 18 salaried GPs recently. So, things are improving there, and I think that’s encouraging more to come to Wrexham and Flintshire. I think the introduction of permanent salaried GPs will provide that important continuity of care that your constituents are keen to see.”

Janet Finch-Saunders MS was less convinced, “I just want to put on record that I stand by every single word that my colleague Darren Millar has said today. As north Wales Members, and for me as the Member for Aberconwy, not only do we read the very negative reports that have come from some shocking stuff; I had to raise only the other week about dirty suction equipment, and that was in a report from well over a year ago. Of course, now it has gone back into special measures. We were all very much of the opinion, ‘Will anything change?’; I have to be honest, I have seen a difference in terms of engagement, but it’s a little too little, really.”

Sam Rowlands MS enquired, “In amongst all of this, in the bigger picture of things, there are real people—patients, a stretched workforce, residents that I’m elected to represent. They’ve been waiting a long time for these issues to be fixed—not just this past year, but for years and years beforehand. So, I wonder, Minister, if you have a date in mind as to when you expect to be satisfied that my residents have the right level of access to healthcare in my region?”

The Minister replied, “I think it is important also to set out that the vast majority of people in north Wales are getting a really good service, and we mustn’t lose sight of that. I just quoted to you the statistics in terms of access to GPs. Those are stunning statistics, and I think it’s really important, because 90 per cent of people get their access to the NHS via those initial contacts with GPs and primary care. I’m not saying that all is perfect—it’s far from perfect. There is a long way to go. There’s a huge need to drive up that improvement in performance, in quality and in safety, and those are the things that I’ve asked them to really focus on.”

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