Jeremy Hunt MP is the Secretary of State for Health, and is MP for South West Surrey.
We want to ensure the NHS is always there for you and your family, whenever you need it. Our mission is not just to raise standards of care today, but to prepare our health service for the future. So this week we announced we will do something which repeated governments have failed to do properly in the past: train enough doctors.
For too long, demand has outstripped supply. While new technologies and ways of working are driving productivity improvements, the ageing society, together with our increased focus on care quality, has increased demand for medical professionals in the NHS. As services have become stretched, the cost of employing temporary agency or locum workers has grown huge.
So from September 2018 we will increase the number of medical school places by up to a quarter, meaning up to 1500 more student places a year. This is the biggest annual increase in medical school intake in the NHS’s history and will deliver a profound change. Our £1.2 billion medical locum bill will come down through liberalising supply, while rota gaps and GP shortages which frustrate doctors and patients will reduce for good.
Furthermore, our structural dependency on immigration will be replaced by 1500 new opportunities for home-grown talent to study medicine. Currently one quarter of our doctors come from overseas. They do a fantastic job and we have been clear we want EU nationals who are already here to be able to stay post-Brexit. But the World Health Organisation says there will soon be a global shortage of more than 2 million doctors, due in part to growing demand for healthcare in the developing world. It is neither justifiable nor sustainable to carry on raiding these countries in order to meet our own growing needs.
It’s simply not right that as the world’s fifth largest economy we continue to import doctors from poorer countries that need them whilst turning away bright home students who are desperate to study medicine. We must now take responsibility for training the doctors we need. It will take a number of years for those doctors qualify, but by the end of the next parliament the NHS will be self-sufficient.
Given each extra medical school place means a cost of £220,000 to the taxpayer, we must also ensure this money is being spent on staff for our NHS. Therefore in future we will ask all those doctors trained on the NHS to commit a minimum of four years’ service after graduation, as the vast majority already do. Similar loyalty schemes exist to protect the taxpayer in other health systems and indeed in our own armed forces. A medical qualification is of unparalleled value and opens up opportunities for its graduates across the globe and in the private sector; and while nobody will have those choices taken away from them, it’s only right that NHS resources are focussed on training the NHS workforce.
These short term costs will deliver an enormous long term benefit. As set out by the Chancellor in Birmingham, our plan for the economy means we can afford a strong NHS. Health is receiving the biggest budget increase of any department, delivering an extra £10 billion a year for the NHS by 2020 – more than the NHS’s own plan asked for and more than double what Labour promised at the last election.
But just writing a cheque doesn’t raise standards. Labour tried this and gave us the tragedy of Mid Staffs. Indeed, following the five years in which labour increased the NHS budget in real terms by almost 50%, the Kings Fund calculated that 43% of that extra taxpayer investment went on inflation in NHS pay and prices – that’s £18.9 billion which could instead have been spent on extra doctors, nurses or breakthrough drugs for patients.
A Conservative government understands two things Labour forgets – that quality matters every bit as much as equity, and that even in a £115 billion budget, every pound not being spent on a tangible improvement in outcomes for patients is a pound wasted and means care is being denied from somebody who needs it. That’s why despite all the battles I believe we will be seen as not just the party that supports patients but the true party of the NHS as well.