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A GP surgery wants to close because it cannot find the staff to run it, according to Aneurin Bevan University Health Board.
Bedwas Health Centre, on East Avenue, is a branch surgery of Aber Medical Centre based in Abertridwr – which also runs Meddygfa Tridwr in the same village, and a branch based in Llanbradach.
Aber Medical Centre has applied to Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB) to close the branch. Following a story published by Caerphilly Observer on Tuesday, ABUHB has now confirmed to us the surgery has struggled to recruit clinical staff to run Bedwas.
ABUHB has written to all Aber Medical Centre patients about the closure and has started an eight-week “engagement period”.
The health board is working with Aneurin Bevan Community Health Council and Gwent Local Medical Committee to form a “branch surgery closure panel” to discuss the application.
What are the options that the panel will consider?
A spokesperson for ABUHB told Caerphilly Observer: “The Branch Closure Panel will carefully consider any feedback received in the eight-week patient engagement period, along with the practice’s reasons for the closure request. Their decision will then be submitted as a recommendation for the consideration of the Health Board’s Executive Board.
“If the request is approved, Aber Medical Centre’s existing patients will continue to be registered with the practice and will be able to access GP services provided at either the main Aber Medical Centre site in Abertridwr and/or the branch surgery in Llanbradach; both of which would remain open.
“Alternatively, patients can choose to register with another neighbouring practice, providing they reside within the boundary of that practice.”
The spokesperson continued: “If the request to close the branch is not approved, Aber Medical Centre will be asked to continue to provide GP services from the Bedwas branch.”
Aber Medical Centre has 8,866 patients registered across Abertridwr, Llanbradach and Bedwas.
ABUHB said it did not hold data on the number of people in Bedwas affected by the planned closure.
Issue raised in the Senedd
The issue has also been raised in the Senedd by Plaid Cymru’s Delyth Jewell, who represents the South Wales East region.
Posing a question to First Minister Mark Drakeford on Tuesday, January 17, Ms Jewell said the branch’s closure would leave residents in Bedwas, Trethomas and Machen having to make journeys to Abertridwr or Llanbradach – something she said would not be “straightforward” for those without cars.
She said: “I’m concerned about a worrying pattern here – in Caerphilly, certainly. Penyrheol, Lansbury Park and Gilfach surgeries have closed in recent years; the story seems to be the same over the region.
“Can you appreciate, Prif Weinidog [First Minister], why so many people are worried these closures will inevitably lead to upheaval for patients, longer waiting times, and more pressure on GPs?”
She continued: “What is your Government doing, please, to advise health boards about the need to improve and not worsen the patient experience? Because, surely, it’s in nobody’s interest for so many surgeries to potentially be closing.”
Responding to Ms Jewell’s question, Mr Drakeford said: “Change is inevitable in the health service. Some surgeries close, new surgeries open. It’s been like that since 1948.
“There are more directly managed services in Wales now than there were before, and that’s a reflection of the changing nature of the profession, as the old model – the principle of a practice-owned model – becomes less attractive to new doctors entering general practice.”
Mr Drakeford called on ABUHB to “deal with any changes sensibly” and to make sure its in contact with patients, as well as “to do what needs to be done if there are access issues that emerge as a result”.
He also highlighted changes in the way people access services and said: “In future, a far higher proportion of consultations will take place remotely, by telephone, or by video call.
“We can’t expect the NHS to be set in aspic—it never has. Change has to be handled sensitively, but change is inevitable, and change actually can make things better, as well as sometimes making things more difficult.”
But Mr Drakeford’s comments were criticised by Ms Jewell, who said patients in the borough have been “continually let down by the Labour Welsh Government’s inability to provide basic health services”.
She accused the Welsh Government of failing to train and recruit enough GPs “over a number of years” and said: “The suggestion from the First Minister that this could represent a change for the better is frankly insulting.
“Rather than make excuses, it’s time his government committed to training and recruiting enough GPs to provide essential services locally, so that local people can receive the services they feel they have a right to expect.”
Ms Jewell also said it was “unfair” to expect patients in Bedwas, particularly older people, to “simply accept that they’ll be deprived of the chance to see their GP and the receptionist in person as remote appointments become the norm.”
Also speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday was Conservative MS Natasha Asghar, who also represents South Wales East.
Ms Asghar asked for a statement from the health minister, Eluned Morgan, about what is being done to address the “serious shortage of GPs in Wales”.
Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Government’s Trefnydd (the minister responsible for organising government business in the Senedd) responded on behalf of Ms Morgan and said: “The Minister for Health and Social Services continues to do a great deal of work in bringing forward more trainee GPs every year. I think you will see that year-on-year over the past few years that has absolutely been the case.
“The Minister obviously also works very hard and very closely with our health boards, because it is a matter for the health boards to ensure there are enough GPs for the local population.”
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