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Domestic Students of Medicine

Volume 623: debated on Tuesday 21 March 2017

1. What steps he plans to take to increase the number of opportunities for domestic students to study medicine. (909354)

We are funding 1,500 additional medical school places each year to ensure that the NHS can continue to deliver safe, compassionate and effective care well into the future. Around 500 places will be made available in September 2018, and the remaining 1,000 places by September 2019.

In Taunton Deane, we are desperately short of trained health professionals, from dermatologists to nurses, but one of the worst shortages is of GPs, with some practices not even able to get locums. I know Ministers are working on this, but could my right hon. Friend update me on what the Department is doing to encourage more medical students to become GPs? It is hard to believe they do not want to come to Somerset, but what are we doing to encourage them?

There is no greater champion for Somerset than my hon. Friend. What I would say to her is what I would say to all medical students, which is that general practice is going to be the biggest area of expansion in the NHS over the coming years; in fact, we are planning to have the biggest increase in GPs in the history of the NHS.

It will take many years for the doctors the Secretary of State has just talked about to come on stream, and we have a workforce crisis in the NHS now, partly because of the cuts the Government made in the last Parliament, but also because of their irrational pursuit of the hardest of Brexits. He could do something very simple today to address this crisis in the short term, and that is to announce that all EU nationals who do vital work in our NHS will be able to stay when we leave the European Union.

The one simple thing the Government are not going to do is refuse to listen to what the British people said when they voted on 23 June. We will do what they said—it is the right thing to do. However, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the vital role that the around 10,000 EU doctors in the NHS play in this country. I can reassure him that the number of doctors joining the NHS from the EU was higher in the four months following the referendum result than in the same four months the previous year.

23. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Kent, with its excellent academic institutions and strong life sciences sector, would be an ideal location for a new medical school, and will he support emerging plans to establish one? (909376)

I can absolutely confirm that the garden of England would be an ideal place for a new medical school—alongside many other parts of the country that are actively competing to start medical schools as a result of the expansion in doctor numbers. It is an independent process run by the General Medical Council, and we will await what it says with great interest.

On this wonderful first day of spring, will the Secretary of State think anew about the training of GPs? We want more GPs, we want them highly trained and we want them to know that someone who suffers from atrial fibrillation should not be neglected and should not be put on aspirin or warfarin, but should be given the new anti-coagulants.

The hon. Gentleman speaks very wisely about this, and he is one of a number of people who say we need to look at the training we give GPs on patient safety, on growing, new areas like mental health, and on things like the identification of cancers. This is something we are having an ongoing discussion with the Royal College of General Practitioners about.

Given the importance of training new doctors and nurses to the future of the health service, will my right hon. Friend welcome the building, which will commence later this summer at the Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford, of a new medical school that is solely there to train doctors to meet the needs of people in Essex and beyond its borders?

I absolutely welcome that, and I know my right hon. Friend has personally championed it as a local MP. The historical mistake that those on both sides of the House have made is not to do long-term workforce planning for the NHS, and that is something we want to put right.

Plans to train more UK doctors are absolutely welcome, but the Secretary of State knows that it takes at least 10 years to train a doctor, so what is his response to the surveys by the British Medical Association and the GMC showing that, having been left hanging for nine months, 40% to 60% of EU doctors are thinking of leaving?

My response is the one I give many times in this House, which is to stress to all those doctors how valued they are as critical parts of the NHS. We do not see any evidence of the number of doctors joining from the EU going down. The NHS is one of the best health services in the world, and it is a great place for people from other countries to work and train.

The workforce is one of the biggest challenges right across the nations of the UK, and particularly in rural areas, as we heard earlier. With a 92% drop in the number of EU nurses coming to the UK and a 60% increase in the number who left last year, how does the Secretary of State plan to avoid an NHS staffing crisis immediately post-Brexit, before there is time to train anybody extra?

The hon. Lady needs to be very careful in her use of statistics, because she will know that one reason for the drop in the number of nurses coming from the EU is that prior to the Brexit vote we introduced much stricter language tests, as that is better for the safety of patients and a very important thing that we need to get right. We are very confident that nurses will continue to want to work in the NHS, because it is a great place to work.