IMPROVING access to GP services is one of my main priorities.

It is an issue that features heavily in my assembly postbag.

I have been contacted by a number of local residents who are concerned about the availability of GP or other health care professionals for an appointment.

The recent National Survey results showed continued concern over access with 42 per cent of participants finding it difficult to make an appointment at their practice.

However 93 per cent of us were happy with our last episode of local healthcare.

The NHS is facing unprecedented challenges with rising demand, expectation and long term public health challenges.

We face those challenges against a backdrop of austerity imposed by the UK Government.

I have previously spoken about our investment in community pharmacy, mental health counselling and physiotherapy services as key parts of local healthcare.

We are though all aware of the pressures on our hardworking GPs and their practice teams to meet demand.

I am incredibly proud of all our NHS staff who do a fantastic job despite the challenges they face.

There is no single solution to improving access and a number of initiatives are underway including £15m invested in this year’s contract with GPs.

I am confident that we will help to relieve pressure on our GPs whilst also meeting the public’s expectation.

Last week, I was delighted to announce that the Train Work Live scheme has once again helped to exceed our targets for GP training.

I launched the scheme in 2016 to promote Wales as an excellent place for doctors and their families to train, work and live.

We know that there are very real challenges across about recruiting and retaining GPs. This is not unique to Wales but an issue across the UK.

It’s important we act to ensure that our health service is sustainable in the long term.

Recent figures show excellent progress has been made again this year.

I increased the number of GP training places from 136 to 160 this year.

However we actually filled 186 places.

This is an increase of 38 per cent on last year and is great news for us locally.

In order to ensure that we can recruit the medical workforce our health service needs now and in the future we also need to look outside Wales. That is why I recently visited India.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin have led the Medical Training Initiative (MTI) scheme to bring medical professionals from India to work in NHS Wales for up to two years.

This partnership with NHS Wales has led to over 100 doctors a year for the last three years being offered positions in NHS Wales through the scheme.

During my visit I had the pleasure of meeting with some of the candidates who have applied to train work and live in Wales for two years together with the NHS Wales recruitment team.

Our message that Wales is an excellent place to Train, Work and Live is clearly having an effect at home and abroad.

As ever, I would be interested on hearing your views on this, please do get in touch.