GPs have been invited to express their views on introducing an army-style minimum term that would tie new medical students to the NHS for up to five years – or potentially even longer – as the government expands undergraduate placements.
The proposals form part of the government’s drive to up the number of ‘home-grown’ doctors by 25% – heralded as ‘the largest single increase in doctor training places in the history of the NHS’ by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The changes, to be implemented September 2018, will see 1,500 additional places open up in England's medical schools for domestic students, bringing the total available up to over 8,500.
The government proposes that medical schools that commit to supporting general practice and offering more GP placements should be prioritised to receive a greater allocation of these 1,500 places.
A consultation on the proposals will run until 2 June 2017. It asks whether respondents agree in principle that implementing a minimum number of years of service is ‘a fair mechanism’ for the taxpayer to get a return on the investment made to train the students.
Respondents will also be asked whether they think this minimum term should last for two, three, four, five or more than five years.
It also asks whether they agree that graduates should be required to repay some of the funding if they fail to work in the NHS for the prescribed period.
Mr Hunt said: ‘We want our NHS to be the safest healthcare system in the world, being driven by talented doctors in the future just as it is now.
‘By expanding our supply of home-grown doctors and proposing that they serve patients in the NHS for a minimum term, we will ensure taxpayer investment in the NHS is returned.
‘While we are proud of our workforce, for too long the NHS has relied too heavily upon locum and agency doctors, and superb staff from overseas – all the while budding medics in England are turned away from medical school due to a lack of training places.’
Professor Ian Cumming, chief executive of HEE, said: ‘This major investment in undergraduate places is very welcome. The 25% increase in places is a clear commitment to a sustainable future home-grown medical workforce, making us self-sufficient in doctors for years to come, giving more young people from diverse backgrounds the chance to become a doctor.’
Professor Cumming revealed last week that first-round applications for GP training in 2017 were up almost 5% from the previous year.
Responding to government suggestions that doctors could be forced to serve a minimum term in the NHS when Mr Hunt raised the issue in his 2016 Conservative party conference speech, BMA chair Dr Mark Porter urged the government to tackle the 'root causes' of the NHS workforce crisis, rather than forcing doctors to stay.