University scheme begins to address GP shortages in North and Mid Wales

As Wales sees a critical shortfall in the number of family doctors to serve the increasing patient demand generated by a growing and aging population, three Welsh universities are running a pilot scheme designed to bring young doctors to North and Mid Wales.

The CARER (Community & Rural Education Route) programme, run by Cardiff University in partnership with Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities, will give Cardiff medical students the opportunity to have a year of their education delivered in GP practices in North and Mid Wales, giving them invaluable experience of working closely with clinicians and patients in community settings.

Professor Siladitya Bhattacharya, Head of Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said: “A number of GP surgeries in Mid and North Wales face closure due to fewer GPs who can replace those who retire or leave.

“While the Government’s Train Work Live campaign has seen an increase in the number of junior doctors choosing to work in Wales, recruitment is still a problem in rural areas. At Cardiff University School of Medicine we want to train an outstanding medical workforce to serve all communities across the whole of Wales.”

The new scheme will build on Cardiff University’s existing practice of ensuring its medical students are offered placements all over the county in a wide variety of settings, and complements Welsh Government’s plans to expand medical education across Wales through a collaboration between Cardiff and Bangor Universities that aims to allow students to study all of their medical degree in North Wales in the near future.

Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething, said: “I am very pleased to see this scheme providing the chance for our next generation of doctors to study in rural Wales, ahead of the roll-out of full-time North Wales medical degrees. These excellent examples of collaboration between our universities will greatly help towards bringing GPs to traditionally hard to recruit areas in North and West Wales.”

Starting in September 2018, CARER will see seven students placed in Aberystwyth and five in Bangor. They will complete all of their third year in these locations before returning to Cardiff to finish their degrees.

Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University said: “We are delighted to welcome the first cohort of Cardiff University medical students to study here at Aberystwyth University, and to make available to them the excellent study, support and recreational facilities we have to offer. From experience, we know that medical students tend to want to continue working near to where they study. By offering this opportunity to study in Mid and West Wales, we very much hope they will also see a professional future here, and in so doing help address the shortage of healthcare professionals working in the region.”

The first programme of its kind in Wales, initially CARER will only be available for existing third year medical students. Similar schemes have already been piloted in other countries and have proven successful.

Professor Nichola Callow of Bangor University said: “This is another excellent step forward on our journey to establish a full medical degree at Bangor, and it also complements our existing healthcare education. This initiative will have great benefits to both students and communities across Wales.”

Some of the positive elements reported from similar programmes around the world include students acquiring an enhanced understanding of patient needs, better-developed communication skills and stronger working relationships with patients, fellow students and healthcare professionals.

Ella Wooding, one of the Cardiff University students taking part in the CARER scheme, said: “I have really enjoyed the GP teaching I have had in the first two years of medical school, and so I thought that CARER sounded like a fantastic opportunity! I also thought it would be a good chance to explore more of Wales and experience something different to Cardiff life.”

Publication date: 7 September 2018