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New doctors must work in the NHS for four years after qualifying, says Hunt

by Carolyn Wickware
4 October 2016

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Trainee doctors will be required to work in the NHS for four years after qualifying, the health secretary has announced.

During his speech at the Conservative Party Conference today, Jeremy Hunt said that from September 2018, the government will fund up to 1,500 additional places for medical students each year.

“Training a doctor costs over £200,000,” Hunt said. “So in return we will ask all new doctors to work for the NHS for four years, just as army recruits are asked to after their training.

“The result will be more home grown doctors and fewer rota gaps in a safer NHS looking after you and your family for years to come.”

Hunt added that the increase is the largest in the history of the NHS.

While speaking to delegates in Birmingham, he said doctors from overseas make up a quarter of the workforces and “do a fantastic job”.

“But looking forward, is it right to carry on importing doctors from poorer countries that need them, whilst we turn away bright home graduates desperate to study medicine?” said Hunt.

“Even if we wanted to carry on importing doctors, the supply is drying up. The World Health Organisation says there’s a global shortage of over 2 million doctors – we’re not the only country with an ageing population.

“But we are the fifth largest economy in the world – so we should be training all the doctors we need.”

The current cap on the number of places offered by medical schools is set at just over 6,000 per year – half the number of people who apply to study medicine.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said the move is a “welcome boost”.

He said: “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. 

“Mr Hunt quite rightly acknowledges the vital contribution EU staff make to the health and social care sectors.  We look forward to greater certainty for these hugely valued colleagues.”

However, Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said the scheme cannot involve “simply replacing overseas doctors with UK-trained ones”.

He said: “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”.