Hunt promises to make NHS ‘self-sufficient in doctors’ by 2025

The NHS will no longer rely on doctors from overseas by 2025, the health secretary promised at the Conservative Party Conference.

In his speech, Jeremy Hunt announced that medical schools in the UK will be allowed to offer up to 1,500 extra training places a year. Applications will open in 2017-18 and the places will become available from the start of the 2018-19 academic year.

The policy is expected to cost £100m. In an effort to ensure value for the taxpayer, it is expected that doctors will have to repay the £220,000 cost of their training if they leave the UK within four years of qualifying.

Hunt said: “We need to prepare the NHS for the future – which means doing something we have never done properly before: training enough doctors.

“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?

“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.”

The IPPR has warned that the NHS would “collapse” if EU national staff are no longer allowed to stay in the country following this summer’s referendum result.

General Medical Council figures show that 36% of doctors and 23% of GPs working in the UK gained their initial qualification in another country. Of the 15 most common countries of origin for UK overseas doctors, five are in the EU.

Dr Mark Porter, chair of the BMA council, 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.”

Dr Porter said the health service “would not be able to cope” without the “great skill and expertise” of international doctors.

Last week, the BMA suspended a programme of unprecedented five-day strikes, planned in protest at the controversial new contract for junior doctors.

A recent Royal College of Physicians report said that the NHS is “at the point of no return” because of acute staff and funding shortages.

Dr Porter warned that doctors are “burned-out” as a consequence of chronic staff shortages.

“The government must tackle the root causes of this workforce crisis and the reasons why so many UK-trained doctors say they will choose to leave the NHS rather than forcing doctors to stay in a profession in which they can see no future,” he added.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, supported the health secretary’s proposals, saying: “Employers will welcome this significant investment to boost the number of training places for doctors. This should help address the challenges we face in filling rotas in many areas and support the longer term transformation of our services.”

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said: “If this new announcement involves simply replacing overseas doctors with UK-trained ones, that won't increase the total number working in the NHS, and certainly won't solve the agency staff crisis that is affecting the NHS right now.

“Furthermore, the success of this approach will largely depend on how well the NHS is able to ensure that, having trained these extra doctors, they are attracted to work in areas of greatest need, such as working as GPs and in rural areas.”

(Image: Hunt at the 2014 Conservative Party Conference, c. Isabel Infantes from EMPICS Entertainment)

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