The NHS in general and general practice in particular is at the brink of extinction, yet health secretary Jeremy Hunt is using his Conservative Party Conference speech to announce another gimmick – a 25% expansion in the number of funded medical student places from 2018 in a bid to make the NHS less reliant on overseas recruitment.
By the end of the next parliament, Mr Hunt will say, the NHS will be ‘self-sufficient in doctors’. He is right to want to grow our own doctors and nurses, but this doesn’t add up – it is nothing more than politics. The NHS is in crisis and we need workforce here and now – but it would not benefit from the extra medics promised by Hunt for another decade.
Rather than political gimmickry, the health secretary needs to focus on addressing the pressures facing the NHS
The BMA, junior doctors and GPC leaders have long argued that rota gaps and GP shortages are the greatest threat to patient safety and NHS sustainability and they have significantly contributed to low morale among the NHS family. Demotivated, burntout doctors who don’t want to be in their jobs will not be good for patients. The number of doctors, both GPs and consultants, who are considering retiring early is staggeringly high and a huge worry for the NHS and patient care.
In my view Jeremy Hunt’s motive is get endorsement from Tory delegates for his reappointment as health secretary. The reality is that simply replacing overseas doctors with UK-trained ones won’t increase the total number working in the NHS, and certainly won’t solve either the GP recruitment crisis nor the exodus of junior doctors. We don’t know the implications of Brexit on EU doctors, there are large numbers of GPs and consultants waiting to retire in the next few years and there is a huge number of medics sick of politicans’ bullying tactics, who will leave the NHS for other countries or opportunities.
The NHS has never been in a more dangerous position than it is right now. Rather than political gimmickry, the health secretary needs to focus on addressing the pressures facing the NHS. He needs to abandon of the political pipedreams of the seven day NHS, address the concerns of the junior doctors and GPs, and get real about how we properly resource and rebuild the publicly funded NHS today.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is a retired GP and former deputy chair of BMA council. You can follow him on Twitter @kailashchandobe