Page last updated at 07:05 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 08:05 UK

Hospital doctor shortage warning

Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest
There are currently 16 doctor vacancies at Withybush Hospital

West Wales hospitals face a doctor shortage which could leave them "clinically unsafe" an NHS trust warns.

Contingency plans, such as recruiting from outside of Europe, are being put in place to ensure patients do not suffer in the Hywel Dda NHS trust area.

It said it currently has 62 vacancies, including 16 at Haverfordwest's Withybush Hospital and 14 at Prince Philip Hospital, Llanelli.

The British Medical Association (BMA) in Wales has called for urgent action.

It said the staff problem mainly came from the lack of "middle grade doctors" who often act as the senior doctor on duty in hospitals.

Many come from overseas but the laws regarding immigration have changed, with their entry to the UK being delayed, says the organisation which represents doctors in Wales.

It also said there is a "reluctance" among some doctors to work in Wales - particularly outside of Cardiff "for a variety of reasons".

We are developing contingency plans to ensure that safe services can be provided, should this recruitment problem continue
Dr Alan Axford, Hywel Dda NHS Trust 's medical director

"That is particularly true of west and north west Wales," the BMA in Wales said.

It added that other hospitals, including Singleton and Morriston hospitals in Swansea, are experiencing similar problems.

Hywel Dda NHS Trust warned that urgent action was needed to ensure contingency plans are put in place while the recruitment problems continue.

It warned: "From August onwards it is possible that the number of doctors available will reduce to an unacceptably low number.

"Senior consultants and clinical directors are warning that, in certain areas, this will not be enough to safely sustain all services on all sites."

'Service changes'

It said it hoped to ease the problem by recruiting doctors from outside Europe, although this process can take up to a year and was looking at other options.

Dr Alan Axford, the trust's medical director, said the way services are delivered may need to be changed.

"Hywel Dda NHS Trust, like others across the UK, is facing serious problems in recruiting junior and middle-grade doctors," he said.

He said contingency plans were being developed.

"As our plans progress we will keep patients, the public, and our partners informed and we would like to reassure them that patient safety will be our primary concern."

'Clarify rules'

Earlier this month, it was announced that the doctors' recruitment crisis had led to two children's wards closing at Singleton Hospital in Swansea.

It meant in-patient paediatrics are moving to Morriston Hospital.

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said: "Changes in immigration rules have caused problems with recruitment across the UK and we're working with trusts to address these issues.

"The Health Minister, Edwina Hart, has written to the Home Office to ask for a review of the rules in relation to doctors and assembly government officials have met with the UK Border Agency to clarify the rules."

He added that promotional material about working in Wales was being distributed as well as a review group into junior doctors to encourage recruitment.

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