In his speech this morning to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester he said: ‘There’s one more group who are understandably a bit worried at the moment and that’s the 150,000 EU workers in the health and care system. Let me say to them this: you do a fantastic job, we want you to stay and we’re confident you will be able to stay with the same rights you have now - so you can continue being a highly valued part of our NHS and social care family.’
The BMA and RCGP have both been pushing for greater clarity on the position of EU nationals working in the NHS post Brexit. The RCGP said earlier this year that Brexit could force 2,137 GPs out of the NHS, potentially affecting up to 3m patients.
Increase in number of nurses
Mr Hunt also used the speech to announce plans to increase the number of nurses trained in the UK by 25%. He said this represented a permanent increase of more than 5,000 nursing training places every year.
There will be an increase in the number of nursing university places and the DH also plans to triple the number of nursing associates. The nursing associate training route allows people already working in the NHS to become a registered nurse after a four-year apprenticeship.
Derby, Wolverhampton and Coventry Universities will be running apprenticeship nursing courses on hospital and community sites, Mr Hunt said.
However, GP leaders were sceptical that the plans would help general practice. Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage said the plans fell ‘far short of what is needed to address the challenges facing general practice right now in the capital and beyond’.
‘A quarter of London GP practices responding to our recent workforce survey have a vacancy for a nursing role, half have a vacancy for any staff role and two-fifths have a GP planning to retire in the next three years,’ Dr Drage said.
‘This is set against a background of a fifth of English nursing undergraduate places going unfilled in 2017. The biggest challenge GPs and their teams in London face is declining morale resulting from increasing workload not matched by increases in workforce.’
Mr Hunt focused much of his speech on safety and standards of care in the NHS. He said the government would ‘deliver the safest, highest quality healthcare system in the world’.
The secretary of state said the NHS had to get better at supporting doctors and nurses when they made mistakes and learning from mistakes. Mr Hunt said it was his mission to make the NHS the ‘world’s largest learning organisation.’
‘Everyone makes mistakes - but only doctors and nurses have been brave enough to choose a career where the price of those mistakes can sometimes be a tragedy. And when that happens no one is more devastated, no one keener to learn and improve than those same frontline staff,’ Mr Hunt told the conference.
‘But we often make that impossible. They worry about litigation, the GMC, the NMC, the CQC, about being fired by their trust. Unless we support staff to learn from mistakes we just condemn ourselves to repeat them – and that means we have to dismantle the NHS blame culture and replacing it with a learning culture. The world’s largest healthcare organisation must become the world’s largest learning organisation – and it’s my job and my mission to make that happen.’