'My love for the NHS is being drained away': Medical students on Jeremy Hunt's plan to fine doctors who move abroad

What do Jeremy Hunt's controversial new proposals mean for the next generation of British doctors? Four medical students speak to The Independent about their concerns

Izzy Lyons
Thursday 06 October 2016 15:13 BST
New medical recruits must dedicate four years to the NHS - or face paying back some of the £220,000 training costs
New medical recruits must dedicate four years to the NHS - or face paying back some of the £220,000 training costs (Getty)

In the ongoing Jeremy Hunt versus the NHS saga, the Health Secretary has announced his latest target: medical students.

Lured by promising locations such as Australia, the US and Canada, where salaries are often higher and working conditions more agreeable, many young doctors seek work abroad in the first few years after graduating.

As part of a drive to tackle a major recruitment crisis within the health sector, however, junior doctors could soon be fined if they move abroad in the four years after they finish training.

Mr Hunt proposed that students should have to repay some of the £220,000 cost to put them through medical school should they choose to take their services elsewhere, despite the latest generation of medics expected to pay £9,000 per year in fees.

The controversial plans have been widely scrutinsed by health bodies including the British Medical Association, which suggested the Health Secretary tackle the underlying reasons for doctors opting to emigrate, or quit.

Aislinn Macklin Doherty, a member of the Junior Doctors Alliance, said the issue lay in “feeling undervalued and more appreciated elsewhere".

“With 50,000 clinical staff missing today, scores of A&E closures and record waiting times, standard of care under Hunt have plummeted. Doctors can no longer cope,” she told The Independent.

Here's what four British medical students had to say...

Mita Dhullipala, 4th year Medical Student at Glasgow University

My father was born in India and is an “overseas” doctor. He has worked in the NHS as a paediatrician for the last 20 years. He is one of the most hard-working people I know, and he’s the reason I chose a career in medicine.

Yesterday, the Health Secretary questioned my father’s hard work and commitment to our national health service. I could not be more insulted or horrified.

The junior doctor contract dispute and the consequent handling of it by the government has caused one of the most dangerous falls in morale in the history of the NHS – not just in junior doctors, but in students too.

Would I recommend medicine to school students now? No.

Many of my friends in England simply don’t feel it is worth the distress to stay in the career any longer. Morale is low, the good will is disappearing and medical students are considering careers in medical science, technology, pharmaceuticals and law.

Making them work in the NHS for four years is not going to solve any of those problems. Has the Department of Health considered making the NHS an attractive employer and treating NHS staff with respect instead of contempt?

Alyss Robinson, 4th year medical student at Leeds University

It was only ever a matter of time. So long as it is only imposed on new entrants to medical school who are fully informed, I think it is entirely justified.

We are privileged to study at such a comprehensive medical school network, and we are guaranteed a career at the end of it. The government has, and always will, heavily subsidise our course.

However, it will mean serious implications for international students, many of whom study in the UK to return to their home country, and I think this should be respected and allowances should be made.

If these rules were applied to those studying now there will be a large cohort of students left incredibly disappointed.

The first four years are usually the time when doctors want to travel abroad to work, and many will return home and work for the NHS for a long career. It is one of the appeals of becoming a doctor and it would be a deep shame if it was taken away.

Stephen Naulls, Imperial Medical School

After I’d properly read the proposals, I felt absolutely livid. I still am livid. If you want doctors to stay in the U.K. after they graduate, don't force them - incentivise their stay by addressing the issues that make them want to leave in the first place.

I’m a patriot, I love the NHS and everything it stands for. I consider it an honour that I get to be a part of it.

But when I look back on the excitement I had when I started medical school, I can feel it waning; every time Jeremy Hunt opens his mouth to announce a policy, I can feel my love for the NHS being drained away from me.

I know of a lot of Final Years that have purposely applied to Scotland and Wales to avoid the junior doctor contract. I know of friends that had plans to apply to UK medical schools with intention to practice abroad for a stretch of their career who are now looking to train abroad.

Instead of nurturing homegrown talent, Hunt is driving young talent to different countries before they even begin training, ensuring that the NHS receives absolutely no benefit from them whatsoever.

Anonymous 5th year medical student at Oxford University

My first reaction to the news was frustration. It is another unnecessary, punitive policy which alienates junior doctors from the government.

From a personal perspective, I found it particularly upsetting because I had been planning to spend a year after my foundation training working in Australia, where much of my family live, to gain some experience in another healthcare system in order to develop skills which I would then bring back to the NHS.

This new policy falsely portrays junior doctors as disloyal; the reality is that I want to spend my career working in the UK and a year spent in Australia would make me a better NHS doctor.

Several students in my year group have already left medicine, and many more are considering doing so before they qualify because the working environment we see junior doctors enduring at the moment is so difficult.

On Tuesday, when the plans were announced, two of my colleagues said they would never have applied to study medicine if they had known this would be a policy when they qualified.

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