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Last month, at the 2017 Medical Students Conference, we sent a serious message to the Government – urging them to think again about their flawed plans to expand undergraduate medical education and force students to serve in the NHS for at least four years after graduating.
The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said he hoped the plans would signal the production of a home-grown workforce and make the NHS self-sufficient rather than relying on doctors from outside the UK.
But we knew that this policy was a potential disaster from the outset.
Rather than improving recruitment and aiding retention of staff in the health service Mr Hunt’s measures would drive us deeper into crisis, with the NHS already at breaking point.
Forcing people to work in an environment where they cannot thrive is not good for doctors, and it’s certainly not good for patients.
Medical students graduate with six-figure debts hanging over our heads, we graduate after seeing our junior doctor colleagues increasingly demoralised and exhausted, and we graduate into a health service which we worry is unsafe.
As we said in our speech opening our conference last month: we need consideration not conscription. We need to be engaged, not enlisted.
This policy fails to ask the real questions we – and politicians and health leaders – should be asking. Why are fewer doctors progressing directly into specialty training after foundation training? And why are some doctors choosing to leave the NHS altogether?
Today we have submitted our response to the consultation on the Government’s proposals – and we have made strong arguments for change in answering 24 different questions related to the policy. You can read our comments in full here. We have told the Government that pressures on academic staff, particularly due to increasing teaching and research expectations, show that this is an education system already running at capacity. The system needs front-loaded investment in university infrastructure and clinical teaching placements must be made more available. Progress is impossible otherwise.
New medical school places must come with additional funding and specialty training posts to ensure that unemployment is not an everyday fear for medical students – student debt exceeds £80,000 for many medical graduates and both students and taxpayers should expect to see a high quality training post available upon qualification.
We have called for action to make part-time studying, training and working more accessible and for tangible efforts to increase diversity and representation in the medical workforce. Now is the time to make these changes.
And we are particularly concerned about the discriminatory affects the plan could have on women – who are more likely to take career breaks and to work less than full time than male colleagues.
Today we send the strong message that patients deserve a health service in which doctors want to work.
This policy is not one which we want to see go forward – and we have made that clear. But if it is to be developed further careful consideration must be given to the impact it would have on recruitment to medical school, retention of medical students, widening participation in medicine and the morale of medical graduates.
Successive governments have failed to get to grips with the workforce crisis engulfing the NHS – and these plans do little to address that. It is time politicians – and particularly whoever forms the next government – tackle these problems with genuine political will and commitment in order to build a sustainable workforce for the future and a brighter future for us all.
The consultation closes on June 2, 2017. More information
Harrison Carter and Charlie Bell are co-chairs of the medical students committee
Excellent article. Engaged and not enlisted. This government policy is worse than papering over the cracks in medical workforce- it will jeopardise recruitment further.
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