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Health secretary says NHS will become self-sufficient in providing own doctors

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has pledged £100m to make England self-sufficient in supplying its own doctors to the NHS.

The number of medical school places will increase by 25% from 2018 under the plans, growing the number of training places from 6,000 to 7,500 a year.

About a quarter of the medical workforce is trained outside the UK, but the impact of Brexit and a global shortage of doctors could make it harder to recruit so many in the future.

However, critics have slammed the move as too little, too late.

Dr Mark Porter, Chair of BMA Council, said: “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.”

The health secretary’s initiative comes after a year of bitter dispute with junior doctors over the pressures being placed on them to fill rota gaps. Many have considered alternative careers or moving abroad to work in healthcare.

Medical degrees take five years to complete, so it will be 2024 before the impact of these extra places is felt.

Jeremy Hunt will tell the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham today: “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 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?”

Hunt will say the steps will mean that by the end of the next Parliament the NHS in England will be “self-sufficient” when it comes to training doctors.

The rise in training places will cost £100m by the end of the Parliament, but in the long-term the government hopes to recoup money by charging foreign students more than it does now.

Medical students will also be expected to work for the NHS for at least four years – or face penalties that could include them having to repay the cost of their training, which currently stands at £220,000 over the five-year degree.

Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Nigel Edwards said: “For decades, the NHS has failed to train enough of its own staff, so increasing the number of UK-trained medical staff is long overdue, despite the huge contribution made by overseas doctors which must continue to be recognised.

“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.

“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”.

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