Much of the rhetoric of this week’s the Conservative party conference speeches deployed immigration as a scapegoat. At times it was not quite clear whether one was watching a the United Kingdom Independence party conference rather than a Tory one.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the government’s approach to the National Health Service. Jeremy Hunt made a few major announcements: first that he want to increase the number of home-grown doctors every year by funding 1,500 extra places at medical schools in Britain, starting in 2018. This is a welcome announcement – the doctors’ union, the BMA, has long called for an increase in the number of training places to raise the pool of doctors available.
However, Hunt also announced that he plans to retain doctors through implementing a harsh financial penalty for those who wish to leave the NHS. His threat involves forcing doctors who move abroad within four years of qualifying to pay the full cost of their training, which is thought to be around £220,000.
This is unwelcome – Hunt argues that doctors cost the taxpayer large sums of money to train, so doctors should be obliged to work in the NHS for a period of time. However, he forgets that individual doctors also contribute over £50,000 towards their own medical education via tuition fees, and, with fees set to rise further, this cost will only rise.
His announcement can be viewed as an arbitrary form of conscription which penalises many foreign students who pay international fees, often £25,000 a year to study in the UK, with many wanting to return to their home countries soon after graduation.
May’s government is aiming to make NHS medical workforce self-sufficient based on British trained doctors by 2025. This target is both arrogant and misguided because it fails to solve the cause of why Britain is so reliant on roughly 30,000 foreign doctors.
The health secretary’s rhetoric is wrong on both a moral and practical level. If Hunt wants more doctors to stay in Britain, the answer is not a threat of financial punishment – rather, the government should focus on addressing the issues of low morale and providing further investment into the health service.
The NHS contains thousands of hard-working foreign doctors providing high-quality care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The message the Conservatives are sending out is that the services of foreign doctors are no longer appreciated, which may lead to skilled doctors leaving, further exacerbating our current problems.
As a junior doctor I am in despair at this Conservative government’s approach to the NHS, and as Labour activist we must oppose Hunt’s approach to the NHS at every turn. The nasty party is truly back and our health service is not at all safe in their hands.
Martin Edobor is chair of the Young Fabians. He tweets @MartinEdobor
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