NHS to see 'biggest ever' expansion as extra doctor training places confirmed

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The NHS is set to see the "biggest ever" expansion to the NHS medical workforce in England after health officials confirmed plans to increase training positions.

Following a consultation, the Department of Health has confirmed that an extra 1,500 doctors a year will be trained in the NHS by 2020 - boosting the current number of 6,000 by 25%.

Meanwhile, health minister Philip Dunne confirmed plans to fund 10,000 additional training places for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.

Plans to increase the medical training programme were announced by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt last October.

He has previously said that expanding the medical workforce will help ensure the health service is equipped to care for a growing and ageing population.

The move will also increase the number of "home-grown" doctors and reduce the amount spent on expensive agency and locum doctors.

Doctors from the British Medical Association (BMA) said the move was reassuring but it also warned of an immediate shortage of doctors in the NHS.

The union also called for more clarity regarding a "minimum service" for doctors trained within the NHS - another of Mr Hunt's proposals.

The Department of Health said the Government will "continue to consider return on taxpayer investment".

A spokeswoman said the extra places will be targeted at under-represented social groups such as lower income students.

It is hoped that the additional places will also help to address shortages of medics in coastal and rural locations as well as fill gaps in the fields of psychiatry and general practice.

Mr Dunne said: "We are committed to giving more talented students the chance to be part of our world-class NHS workforce.

"Not only is this the biggest ever expansion to the number of doctor training places, but it's also one of the most inclusive; ensuring everyone has the chance to study medicine regardless of their background, and ensuring the NHS is equipped for the future with doctors serving in the areas that need them the most."

BMA medical students committee co-chairman Harrison Carter said: "The students who will benefit from these new placements will take at least 10 years to train and become senior doctors so we mustn't forget this promise won't tackle the immediate shortage of doctors in the NHS which could become more acute following Brexit.

"As such, we require equal focus on retaining existing doctors in high-quality jobs which will provide more immediate relief to an overstretched medical workforce.

"Medical students also need clarity on whether they must work for the NHS for a minimum number of years following graduation.

"This proposal isn't necessary as only a small minority of doctors do not complete their training in the NHS and it would only serve to worsen poor morale and potentially discourage students from choosing medicine.

"It could also be discriminatory towards women, who are more likely to take more career breaks than men."

Meanwhile, the Department of Health confirmed that the Government will fund 10,000 additional training places for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals - with some of the places available to students as soon as next month.

The Department of Health said 45,000 students have applied for 23,000 nurse training places this year and historically thousands have been rejected despite having the required grades.

Mr Dunne added: "For too long, a cap on training places has meant thousands of talented students are rejected from university courses each year despite meeting requirements for medicine or nursing.

"These students will now be able to fulfil their potential as our future NHS nurses, midwives and allied health professionals."

But Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: "Any investment in training placements for nursing students is welcome news but it will do little to solve current nursing shortages. 

"The health and care system desperately needs proper workforce planning. It's unclear where extra nursing students will come from, when the removal of student funding is putting many people off entering the profession. 

"When it comes to the future supply of nurses, the Government is turning off the tap - nursing degree applications have fallen sharply and the pay cap is forcing many nurses out of the job they love. 

"It's time for ministers to face facts: they will struggle to build a strong and resilient workforce unless they lift the cap on pay and reinstate student funding."

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: "It will of course take some time for the full benefit of these additional staff to be felt.

"We look forward to working with the Government to ensure an immigration system that complements domestic efforts - this will help to ensure we have the staff we need to provide first-class care in the 21st century."