The Government’s plans to train more medical students would take at least a decade to have an effect – leaving the NHS desperate for staff, doctors leaders have warned.
The message comes after health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that training places for 1,500 more students would be created, with students to begin training in 2018/19, in a bid to reduce reliance on foreign doctors.
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham Mr Hunt admitted the Government had never trained enough doctors – and that the plans would ‘prepare the NHS for the future’.
Around 30,000 doctors working in the NHS are from other EU countries and the future of those staff – as well as those wanting to work in the UK in the future – is in doubt after the Brexit vote.
Mr Hunt has previously called for those staff in the UK to be protected, but has now announced his plans for NHS staffing after Brexit.
BMA council chair Mark Porter said Mr Hunt’s plans would ‘not stop the NHS from needing to recruit overseas staff’ – and the causes of the workforce crisis, like extra workload, demoralised staff and lack of funding should be tackled.
He said: ‘Mr 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 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 added: ‘International doctors bring great skill and expertise to the NHS. Without them, our health service would not be able to cope.
‘Over the past year, junior doctors across the country have raised concerns about the reality of working in an overstretched NHS and the impact that has on their morale and patient care.
'We know there are chronic staff shortages and rota gaps across the NHS, with major recruitment problems in areas such as emergency medicine and general practice.
‘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. Demotivated, burnt-out doctors in this situation will not be good for patients.’
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference Mr Hunt also pledged to ‘reform’ the cap on the total number of places that medical schools can offer which is set at around 6,000 a year.
Mr Hunt said the plan would ‘ensure the NHS has the doctors it needs for the future’.
He said: ‘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.
‘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 while turning away bright, home graduates desperate to study medicine?’
Mr Hunt’s plans will also see training doctors told they cannot leave the NHS for four years in order to payback the cost of training, which the Government claims is £220,000. If they leave they could be eligible to pay the bill.
Quality of education
BMA GPs committee policy lead for education, training and workforce Krishna Kasaraneni said: ‘GP recruitment has not hit the target consistently for nearly a decade. There are hundreds of vacancies making a mockery of the Government’s aim to recruit an additional 5,000 GPs by 2020.
‘GP workload is increasing at dramatic rates and funding has dropped disproportionately over the last few years. Yet, rather than addressing the root causes of this recruitment crisis, the Government wants to force medical graduates to stay working in the NHS, a proposal which can only have a negative impact on morale.’
BMA medical students committee co-chair Harrison Carter said: ‘It is staggering that it has taken the health secretary four years in that position and six years of a Conservative Government to concede that the NHS is not self-sufficient in producing the correct number of doctors.
‘Retaining the workforce has to be the priority. We can have more doctors if we make the NHS attractive for those that currently work in it.
‘Increasing the number of medical student places alone will not be enough to make the NHS self-sufficient in producing the correct number of doctors and raises a number of serious questions for medical students; the Government will need to ensure that the quality of medical education is not compromised by this increase in numbers.
'This means maintaining staff student ratios and ensuring the participation of senior medical staff in medical education and making sure there are enough clinical placements and jobs for all medical students.'
The cost of the plans will be funded from the Department of Health’s existing budget.
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