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GP shortage ‘caused by Withybush downgrades’

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docsPEMBROKE residents have expressed concerns about reduced opening hours in the town’s doctors surgery as a result of a shortage of doctors. Since September 1, the surgery at St Oswald’s has closed at 1pm on weekdays. Until then, it had been open until 6.30pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The surgery, a member of the Argyle Medical Group which also has practices in Pembroke Dock and Neyland, serves Pembroke, Monkton, and a number of outlying communities in the area. The surgery in Pembroke Dock will remain open from 8am – 6.30pm.

However, concerns have been raised about how the reduction of provision in Pembroke will affect elderly patients, or those with reduced mobility. Speaking to The Herald, Practice Manager for the Argyle Medical Group Juliet Goldsworthy confirmed that the reduction in surgery hours was a deirect result of staff shortages: “We’re two doctors down at the moment – its a common problem across Wales,” she said.

Safety was apparently a major consideration for the shorter opening hours. The practice was unwilling to let one doctor work at the surgery alone. “Its about managing the surgery safely andwe can’t do that at the moment,” Ms Goldsworthy added.

When we asked how long the staff shortage had been a problem for, she said that the staffing shortages were ‘relatively recent,’ though admitted that they had ‘struggled on’ over recent months. However, staff holiday time had meant that they were unable to keep the current provision. “The first doctor left about 18 months ago, and we lost another one 12 months ago,” she added.

“We have been advertising in national publications, but haven’t had any response. Accepting that the situation for patients was ‘far from ideal,’ she said that the problem was an all-Wales issue. Ms Goldsworthy confirmed that the practice had 10.75 FTE (full-time equivalent) doctors.

There are around 25,000 patients registered with the practice, which equates to 2325 patients per GP. Several years ago, the average number of patients per GP in Wales was 1640, and while Ms Goldsworthy said that this had risen to around 1900-2000, she still acknowledged that Argyle Street still did not meet these levels.

“Its not ideal – it puts a lot of pressure on both patients and doctors,” she added. Ms Goldsworthy pointed out that Argyle Street employed full-time nurse practitioners, who worked supporting GPs, as well as a full-time pharmacist who could ease the burden on doctors with work related to medication. “We were one of the first practices to take on a full-time pharmacist,”she added. “The health board seems to be looking more at approaches like this now. I understand that patients hanker for days gone by, but times have changed.”

With regards to the opening hours at St Oswalds, Ms Goldsworthy told us that if two new doctors could be recruited the situation would be reviewed after six months. At present, she said that the practice has been advertising ways for those unable to drive to attend the Argyle Street Surgery to travel there more cheaply.

“Services like country cars, and public transport can save people money on taxis,” she pointed out. Ms Goldsworthy emphasised that the surgery would still be open in mornings, and that hopefully people who would struggle to get to Pembroke Dock would be able to attend then. “We do visit a lot of people at home, if they are unable to get out. Our visiting rates are quite high,” she added. She pointed out that a shortage of GPs could lead to a continuing problem, because constant staff-shortages would lead to an increased workload, and the job becoming less attractive for medical trainees.

“There is talk of a ‘Golden Hello’ in Wales, but I’m not sure what is going to become of that,” she said. Concerningly, Ms Goldsworthy agreed with other commentators, including Simon Hart MP, who has previously said that a reduction in service provision at Withybush will lead to a knock-on effect on the county’s medical community.

“As Withybush downgrades and less doctors come to work there, their partners, who often used to work in surgeries won’t come here either, leading to the health community shrinking. We had a doctor who worked with us who was fantastic, but his wife worked in paediatric care, and when the department in Withybush downsized she had to move to Swansea to find work.

“There may also be issues with GP training at the hospital.” Speaking to The Herald, MP Simon Hart agreed that Issues faced by Withybush Hospital were a definite contributing factor in staffing problems across the medical community in the area: “From what I can discover there is a definite connection between recruitment and uncertainty over Withybush. For once the problem is not entirely about money,” he said.

“For the County to be able to attract Doctors and their families, they need to assure them that the services have a future and that there is certainty as far as their jobs are concerned. The Welsh Labour Government continues to fail in this regard and our county suffers accordingly.” We asked Hywel Dda University Health Board whether this was a fair reflection, and what if anything could be done to attract more GPs to the county.

At the time of going to press The Herald had received no reply. A spokesperson for Hywel Dda UHB said: “We would strongly urge caution when drawing ‘definite’ links between recruitment issues at a hospital and GP level as there is no absolute or clear evidence for this. GP recruitment is challenging across Wales, this is well documented, and we are experiencing this in areas across Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion as well as Pembrokeshire.

“Whilst we are taking clear actions to address recruitment at our hospitals, we have numerous responses to recruitment challenges at a GP level. For example, we are in the process of developing a Primary Care Support Team to offer support to Practices with workforce issues to which we have successfully appointed a GP clinical lead and three Advanced Practitioners, due to start shortly.

“We are also supporting the development of other roles that can provide patient care in General Practice working alongside GPs. For example, Argyle Surgery have employed a practice based pharmacist to support the GPs on a day to basis. This is alongside developing portfolio GP roles to increase the appeal of working in the Hywel Dda area to those wanting diversity within their role.”

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Primary school teacher described as ‘touchy-feely’ on day two of trial

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher, accused of sexually assaulting his pupils was “very touchy-feely”, Swansea Crown Court heard on the second day of his trial.

James Oulton, 34, of Haverfordwest would put his hands around students’ waists and touch their bottoms, an ex-female pupil said in a video interview played to Swansea Crown Court.

The defendant denies 30 charges of sexual assault at a primary school in Haverfordwest. The alleged offences took place between 2012 and 2018.

On the opening day of the trial, court heard that Oulton said the case was a “witch-hunt” and that he always behaved appropriately with children.

On Tuesday, the jury watched the video interview with one of Oulton’s former pupils, who said he was a “friendly person, very chatty and sociable and quite outgoing and wanted to know everything that was going on.”

She added: “Mr Oulton often wanted to know a lot of details on what we had done over the weekend, where we had been, and also who they had been with.”

“At the time I just thought he was trying to be really friendly but now when I look back at it now, it does seem odd.”

The witness also described the defendant as a “very touchy-feely teacher”.

She added: “If he was marking your work or if you approached him to ask him a question, he would put his hands around your waist or around your bum”.

“If he was standing by his desk, he would, like, motion to his knee, so he wouldn’t ask you directly to sit on his lap but he would tap his knee.”

Swansea Crown Court heard that the witness eventually came forward and told her parents parents after she heard them speaking about Mr Oulton being suspended from his job.

“Did you feel under pressure to say something had happened to you?” asked Mr Clee.

The witness answered “No”

Oulton, of Richmond Crescent, Haverfordwest, previously told the court he had behaved appropriately.

He also believed letters were sent by Pembrokeshire County Council to parents which encouraged “deliberately false evidence” and collusion between pupils.

The trial continues.

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‘We don’t want it’: councillors object to HGV tanker park plans

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PEMBROKE DOCK town councillors have objected strongly to plans to build a HGV tanker park in the town.

The tanker park would be located on the south-western side of Criterion Way, behind the ASDA petrol station.

However, at a meeting of the town council’s Planning Committee on Tuesday, April 13, councillors were in agreement that it would create more problems for the town.

Councillor Jonathan George said: “I’ve noted the public input on this and they don’t seem very happy about where it’s going to be put.

“It is close to a small park area and I don’t think it’s suitable to put this here. I won’t be supporting this.”

Cllr George Manning added: “There are many aspects of this which are totally inappropriate for Pembroke Dock. There are many other sites available but they haven’t looked at any of them.

“This does not do anything for the Future Generations act and it will bring more disruption to the town.

“This does not bring about any improvements to the existing transport infrastructure. There are lots of things about this, we don’t want it. I don’t think they have looked into it in enough detail.”

Cllr Gordon Goff said that the impact it would have on the public and wildlife would be ‘astronomical’.

He went on to say he was not happy with one of the statements in the application and said they ‘don’t want to be blackmailed’.

One of the documents submitted with the application states that if the development was not approved it would mean that the applicants, Certas, ‘will either have to find a different site’ or ‘will have to cease operating in the area’.

Cllr Terry Judkins said that the Port Authority wanted to ‘use Pembroke Dock as a dumping ground’ and added that he could not support it.

Cllr Maureen Colgan added that she was ‘totally against’ the application and said that the area should be kept for leisure and be developed as an area where people can sit and enjoy themselves.

The application is due to be decided by Pembrokeshire County Council at a later date.

Cllr Paul Dowson has already called in the application for it to be debated by the County Council’s Planning Committee.

In his request he states that it is too near habitation, it is within the Pembroke Dock conservation area and that children have been using the area near the bandstand as play area for over 20 years.

The area had also previously been the subject of an application for a marina and other leisure facilities but that investment was written off in 2017.

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Trial of Haverfordwest primary school teacher starts at Swansea Crown Court

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher who is accused of sexually abusing eleven children thinks he is a victim of a witch hunt by the police, a jury has heard.

But at Swansea Crown Court on Monday (Apr 12), the Clare Wilks for the prosecution said that the defendant had “abused the trust of parents and staff” by sexually touching children in his care.

James Oulton, denies 30 charges of sexual assault against the eleven children who were aged eight or nine years old at the time.

The alleged offences took place between 2012 and 2018.

The jury heard how the pupils, now aged between 11 and 17, claimed he touched them sexually.

But the court was also told that Mr Oulton claimed he received cards at the end of term, and he believed letters sent by Pembrokeshire council to parents encouraged false complaints and collusion between pupils.

Oulton, 34, of Richmond Crescent, Haverfordwest, told the court he had behaved appropriately.

The jury heard how the alleged abuse occurred while Mr Oulton was working at a primary school in Haverfordwest.

Clare Wilks, prosecuting, said some of the children alleged that they had been assaulted on a daily basis, while others had had given statements to say it only happened the one time.

The trial continues.

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