Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced plans to expand the recruitment of doctors within the UK, aiming to increase the number of funded medical student places by 1,500, or 25%, from 2018. Speaking at the Conservative Party’s annual conference, Mr Hunt argued that removing the cap on the number of UK medical students and obliging doctors to work in the NHS for at least four years will prevent thousands of students being turned away from medical training each year. The Health Secretary is not expected to allocate additional funds for the policy, despite an estimated price tag of £100 million Mr Hunt has instead argued his plans will pay for themselves through a reduced reliance on agency staff.
Although not distinguishing between EU doctors and those from elsewhere in the world, Mr Hunt’s target has been interpreted as an effort to calm fears of a post-Brexit staffing crisis in the NHS, with the General Medical Council estimates that more than 30,000 NHS doctors come from the EU and European Economic Area. Responding to the announcement, the Chair of the BMA’s council, Dr Mark Porter, praised the “great skill and expertise” international doctors bring to the NHS. Mr Hunt’s announcement following months of negotiations over contracts with junior doctors, and may exacerbate existing tensions within the NHS workforce.