It is hard to recruit to West Wales. The “little England beyond Wales” is culturally very different from Welsh speaking Carmarthenshire. I used to think Whitland would be near enough, but no longer.
Doctors choose centres of excellence in cities rather than rural areas to work in.
There is an under capacity in diagnostic physicians, and this will remain the case for 10 years.
Reconfiguring West Wales services gives an opportunity to raise standards, reduce infections, accelerate discharge and improve choice.
The medical model is changing, and teams of specialists raise standards fastest.
There has not been the investment in infrastructure that there should have been to speed transport.
Choice for patients needs to be encouraged by the system. A larger Trust ( preferably all of Wales – why not?) will give greater choice.
If a rural area such as Pembrokeshire wishes to recruit consultants and GPs easily, it needs to recognise the drivers for change in the medical profession. New doctors want to have access to new technologies, tests, and treatments. The medical model now involves large teams of specialists raising their standards together. Access to such centres is meant to be “equal” but in effect, especially in Wales, it is dependent on post code. Choice has been restricted to “within your own trust”, and outside referral restricted unless there is no service within your trust. Consultants and their juniors like to have access to specialist investigations, a complete set of treatment options, and research and teaching opportunities.
So why did I move to Pembrokeshire. I enjoy an independent mind-set, and the challenge of working in remote areas. But I saw the possibilities were better where there was a DGH (District General Hospital), a postgraduate centre and teaching opportunities. All these will go if my local hospital closes, or moves outside of the “little England beyond Wales”. I feel cultural affiliation, and when I seek medical care the first language should be one I understand. (English). Consultants arriving in the area were offered subsidised accommodation in a hospital house whilst they looked for a home. New physicians arriving felt they were cared for …
Within GP, the clinical variety and opportunities have reduced, and there is much less room for manoeuvre in todays group practice experience. The shape of the job has changed, and the people in it have changed too. Now it is 80% female reflecting the underperformance of males at age 18 when applying for medical school. It may change even more, because with too few diagnosticians, digital consulting, without an examination may expand, with resultant litigation risk. ( Murray Ellender GPs must embrace digital future – The Times 23rd April 2018 )
The threat to move our hospital outside of our county, and into another tribal area, will not be taken lying down. So we need a solution that allows consultants all the things they want, and our, mainly female, GPs to get what they want. With a 10 year deficit and shortage of diagnostic doctor skills, we have to centralise in some way or other. ( Patients want all services as close as possible, and many would choose local access instead of lower death rates. They will also demand it is all free, for everyone, everywhere, for ever. )
If we take out the hospital we take away part of the culture. House prices will fall further as professionals leave, and choose to live near tertiary care centres. The already dilapidated and sometimes empty heart of the county town will get even more squalid and forgotten. Yes, we can replace one culture with another, more cynical one. People are already disillusioned in the shires, where the vote went against staying in the EU, even though the people there had more to lose. Taking away their hospital without persuading them that it is for the greater good could lead to civil unrest…. and they will also have a Welsh language school they never asked for.
In the end we have to make the new solution attractive to medical applicants, and that means combining Hywel Dda with Swansea so that hospital jobs are rotated, the educational and research opportunities are there for all, and the important services; stents, stroke and radiotherapy are all provided on site. Without Swansea the new hospital needs more money to have the facilities needed to help recruitment and even then it may not be enough.
Dirty surgery such as gut emergencies should be treated in on of the old DGH theatre suites, and the rest of old DGHs become community care recovery centres. The funding must also be changed, so that all the country, patient and professionals, realises that financially, it is founded on a rock rather than sand. This will win hearts and minds.. but it is tough love.
My personal belief is in means related co-payments, scaled and managed centrally. I have some concern about how to deal with citizens who have cash flow poor, but are asset rich, but this can be debated once we agree to ration and use co-payments.
The three options are all reasonable, given the under capacity and recruitment problems described, and NHSreality goes for a new build in Pembrokeshire, along with new roads. If this were done, and/or the trust combined with Swansea, there would be a great improvement in services for West Wales patients. The finances are a different matter, and I expect continued denial all round.