Jeremy Hunt is to dramatically expand the number of ‘home-grown’ doctors in a bid to replace overseas medics in the wake of Brexit.
The Health Secretary will announce he will fund an extra 1,500 medical students every year, to make the NHS “self- sufficient in doctors” by 2025.
Newly-trained doctors will also be forced to repay the £220,000 cost of their training if they leave the UK within four years of qualifying.
The proposals, due to be unveiled at the Tory conference in Birmingham, sparked a backlash from the BMA, Labour and academics who slammed him for wanting to cut the number of international medics.
The BMA said the move was an admission from Hunt that he had failed to train enough doctors to meet demand, and also laid bare the underlying shortages and demoralised workforce caused by the junior doctors’ row.
On Monday, the BMA published a new study showing that nearly half of doctors (42%) are looking to move overseas as their current experience of being a doctor is worse than they expected when they graduated.
And Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott said the Health Secretary was perpetuating “Hard Brexiter’s Myths”, adding it was “nonsense” to suggest the UK could become self-sufficient in medical staff.
Critics also pointed out that Hunt has spent years claiming that the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition trained enough extra doctors.
In his speech, Hunt will commit to an extra 1,500 students through medical schools, places which students will be able to apply for in 2017/18.
In another announcement, the Government will also require for the first time that all those trained as doctors on the NHS will be required to work in the NHS for a minimum of four years after graduation – and not privately or overseas.
The change mirrors the approach taken for those whose higher education was funded by the Armed Forces. It currently costs the taxpayer £220,000 to produce a graduate from medical school.
The UK relies heavily on doctors from overseas, who make up 25% of the medical workforce, but Hunt says many are ‘often taken from developing countries who need them’, as well as from the EU.
Hunt will also argue that his big boost in doctor training places will mean not just a cut in overseas staff but as well as expensive agency staff. Last year hospitals spent £3.3 billion on agency staff, including £1.2 billion on medical locums.
Hunt will say: “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?”
Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, was scathing, saying that the problems were more down to cuts and poor workforce planning.
“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.
“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.
“International doctors bring great skill and expertise to the NHS. Without them, our health service would not be able to cope.”
Porter added: “The government must tackle the root causes of this workforce crisis and the reasons why so many UK-trained doctors are considering leaving the NHS rather than forcing doctors to stay in the health service. Demotivated, burnt-out doctors who don’t want to be in their jobs, will not be good for patients.”
Abbott said: “The true picture is that the NHS has never been in a more perilous state and the Tories are cutting the health budget by £22 billion.
“The reality is that Hunt has lost the trust of the medical profession and is the least popular Health Minister in recent history. Morale amongst NHS staff is at rock bottom and Hunt has shown once again just how little regard he has for the hard-working people that keep our health service running.”
Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Nigel Edwards said increasing the number of UK-trained medical staff was “long overdue”.
“However, 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.”
The BMA Cohort Doctor report, a ten year study of 430 doctors found 42 per cent of cohort doctors plan to practise overseas, a slight increase on previous years.
Some 10 per cent have applied for a ‘certificate of good standing’ with a view to working abroad. Compared to previous points in their careers, the majority stated that they are now more likely to consider working overseas or leaving medicine, but are less likely to consider changing their specialty.
But Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive, NHS Employers, welcomed the Hunt proposals.
“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.”