Proposals to train more doctors – and tie them to the NHS for more than four years after graduation – will reduce staff numbers and could worsen the health service’s recruitment crisis.
That is the message from doctors leaders after the Department of Health outlined plans to introduce an ‘army-style’ minimum term for new medical students working in the NHS.
It comes as part of health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans to increase the number of ‘home-grown’ doctors working in the NHS by 25 per cent – a move the Government claims could make the health service self-sufficient.
But doctors leaders said the proposals showed the Government’s workforce planning is ‘poor’ and has left the NHS in ‘desperate need of more doctors’.
Harrison Carter, BMA medical students committee co-chair, said: ‘While extra medical school places are welcome, these proposals do not address the underlying issues that are affecting the NHS’s ability to recruit and retain staff.
‘We are already seeing at each stage of the training process, that fewer people are choosing to apply to or remain in the NHS as doctors with a poor uptake of places in many specialty training programmes, and a decline in applications to medical school, which these proposals would only worsen.
‘The Government has argued that these plans mirror the system already in place for medical students in the armed forces, but has failed to acknowledge the £10,000 a year bursary and £45,000 lump sum that students receive in recognition of their commitment to the military.
‘Rather than forcing doctors to work in a health service in which they can see no future, the Government must urgently address the reasons why, after years of training to become doctors, fewer people are choosing to apply to or remain in the NHS.’
Armed forces scheme
In the consultation document the Government claims the move would be similar to the ‘return of service’ policy for medical students in the armed forces – and would thus give the taxpayer value on money spent on training.
A consultation on the proposals, which were initially announced at the Conservative party conference in 2016, is now running – with a closing date of June 2, 2017. It queries whether the minimum term is a ‘fair mechanism’.
In Mr Hunt’s original pledge he said 1,500 more training places would be created for students to begin training in 2018/19 – in a bid to reduce reliance on foreign doctors and ‘prepare the NHS for the future’.
Mr Hunt said: ‘By expanding our supply of home-grown doctors and proposing that they serve patients in the NHS for a minimum term, we will ensure taxpayer investment in the NHS is returned.
‘While we are proud of our workforce, for too long the NHS has relied too heavily upon locum and agency doctors, and superb staff from overseas – all the while budding medics in England are turned away from medical school due to a lack of training places.’
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.
The Government’s unanswered questions about medical school expansion
Read more from Peter Blackburn and follow on Twitter.