Jump in junior doctors training as GPs in Wales
There has been a 16% increase in the number of junior doctors choosing to come to or stay in Wales to train to become GPs, new figures have shown.
Currently 84% of the 136 available family doctor training places in the Welsh NHS have been filled.
This compares to 68% after the first round of recruitment last year.
The Welsh Government last autumn offered a £20,000 cash incentive to junior doctors who train as GPs in areas with significant shortages.
It was part of a package of measures to attract junior doctors in a major national and international recruitment drive by the Welsh NHS.
Health Secretary Vaughan Gething said the figures "speak for themselves" and show "the campaign has been a success" and is "something to celebrate".
Groups representing GPs have long warned of a crisis facing health services in parts of Wales due to severe shortages of family doctors.
Specialist training in general practice takes three years to complete and junior doctors can apply to train anywhere in the UK.
Usually there are three recruitment rounds a year and any unfilled places get re-advertised.
Currently, after the first round, 22 of 136 GP training places in Wales are unfilled.
Last year, 29 places remained vacant following all three recruitment rounds.
The Welsh Government said it was confident more places would be filled in subsequent rounds.
Of those areas of Wales that were a part of the new financial incentive scheme, first round recruitment has already resulted in 100% rates in the Pembrokeshire, north east Wales and north west Wales areas.
The Welsh Government said it was also confident rates for Ceredigion and central north Wales areas would improve after places get re-advertised.
The latest statistics, published last week, show there has been 7% increase in the number of individual GPs working in Wales over the past 10 years.
But there has been a 11% drop in the number of partnerships (or surgeries).
Wales also has the second oldest GP population of any UK country, with 22.2% of GPs aged 55 or over.
There have been long-term concerns about doctors retiring and some practices being handed back to health boards.
But in Cwm Taf, which covers the Rhondda and Cynon valleys, the age profile has been brought down over the last decade. Initiatives include a Rhondda Docs website and recruitment drive.
The health secretary also announced the NHS Wales recruitment campaign would be expanded in May, to include primary care nurses, the hospital sector and the care home sector.
Future phases will focus on recruiting more pharmacists and allied health professionals, like physiotherapists.
Rebecca Payne, chair of the Royal College of GPs in Wales, said it was an important step in the right direction.
"However Wales actually needs to produce 200 new GPs a year, so it's clear that we have a long way to go," she said.
"Increasing the share of NHS funding going into general practice is vital to make sure we can employ other staff to help manage an increasingly elderly population with complex medical problems."
Dr David Bailey, deputy chair of the BMA's Welsh GPs committee, said unfilled training places placed an additional burden on GPs.
"A strong recruitment campaign must be underpinned by an enhanced benefits package, and combined with innovative thinking to foster effective solutions to workforce problems," he said.