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Hunt pledges more home-grown trainee doctors and minimum NHS service term

Published 04/10/2016

Jeremy Hunt will announce a new requirement for all doctors trained on the NHS to work for the public healthcare service for a minimum of four years after graduation
Jeremy Hunt will announce a new requirement for all doctors trained on the NHS to work for the public healthcare service for a minimum of four years after graduation

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has pledged to end NHS England's reliance on foreign doctors by increasing numbers trained in medical schools by 25%.

Mr Hunt will lift a 6,000 cap on numbers of medical students to allow a further 1,500 a year to be trained.

And he will announce a new requirement for all doctors trained on the NHS - at an average cost to taxpayers of £220,000 - to work for the public healthcare service for a minimum of four years after graduation.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the reforms would allow more young people to fulfil their ambitions.

She told Sky News's Sunrise: "There are people here in the UK who want to train as doctors who may not be able to do that because of the limits that have been put on the numbers. We want to give those opportunities to British people and we want to see more British doctors in the NHS.

"NHS hospitals have been spending our money on not just agency doctors but agency nurses. We want to ensure that we can see more British nurses and doctors operating in our NHS, working in our NHS. I think that's only fair."

But the British Medical Association warned that the boost in home-grown doctor numbers would only go part of the way to addressing a crisis in recruitment in the NHS.

BMA council chairman Mark Porter said: "Jeremy Hunt has been Health Secretary for four years and, while it is welcome that he has finally admitted the Government has failed to train enough doctors to meet rising demand, this announcement falls far short of what is needed.

"The Government's poor workforce planning has meant that the health service is currently facing huge and predictable staff shortages. We desperately need more doctors, particularly with the Government plans for further seven-day services, but it will take a decade for extra places at medical school to produce more doctors. This initiative will not stop the NHS from needing to recruit overseas staff."

Mrs May acknowledged that hospitals will have to continue to recruit overseas doctors while waiting for the new home-grown staff to complete their training, and stressed that there was no threat to medics currently working in the NHS.

Mr Hunt will tell the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham that the training drive will cost an estimated £100 million by 2020, but could sharply reduce the £1.2 billion a year spent on medical locums, many of them from overseas.

NHS hospitals rely heavily on foreign doctors, who currently make up 25% of the medical workforce, and spend £3.3 billion a year on agency staff, including locums.

"As well as delivering higher standards today, we need to prepare the NHS for the future - which means doing something we have never done properly before: training enough doctors," Mr Hunt is due to say.

"Currently a quarter of our doctors come from overseas. They do a fantastic job and we have been clear that we want EU nationals who are already here to be able to stay post-Brexit. But is it right to import doctors from poorer countries that need them whilst turning away bright home graduates desperate to study medicine?

"From September 2018, we will train up to 1,500 more doctors every year, increasing the number of medical school places by up to a quarter. Of course it will take a number of years before those doctors qualify, but by the end of the next Parliament we will make the NHS self-sufficient in doctors."

Aspiring doctors will be able to apply for the new places from the 2017/18 academic year to start their courses in September 2018.

Royal College of Physicians president Professor Jane Dacre said: "The RCP has long argued that rota gaps and staff shortages are the greatest threat to patient safety and have significantly contributed to low morale among junior doctors.

"The NHS needs more doctors, and this dramatic increase in medical school places will help relieve many of the pressures faced by the NHS in the long term, and support a more sustainable workforce."

The chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, Maureen Baker, called for assurances that the boost for hospital doctors would be matched by measures to ensure sufficient numbers of family doctors, whose teams make up 90% of patient contacts in the NHS.

"We need thousands more doctors, we need thousands more GPs, and it's important that we maximise the home-grown talent and potential we have so that our NHS has enough doctors to deliver the excellent patient care it is world-renowned for," said Professor Baker.

Shadow health secretary Diane Abbott said: "Training more doctors and nurses here is a good idea, but it will need additional money and the Tories are cutting £22 billion from the NHS budget.

"The idea we can be self-sufficient in medical staff is ridiculous. An additional 1,500 doctors' training places only scratches the surface of the professionals that are needed to staff our health service. Some of these will drop out and others choose to work abroad.

"The NHS will be facing disaster without freedom of movement. This Brexit fantasy is deeply damaging to the NHS."

Head of the British Medical Association Mark Porter criticised planned restrictions on doctors working abroad.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "To simply close our borders ... and stop the interchange of doctors would be a bad thing for patient care.

"We should have a health service that doctors want to work in, not a health service they have to be forced to work in."

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