Government ‘cannot be bothered to train its own’ doctors and nurses, Labour says

Recruiting workers from “countries on the World Health Organisation’s red list” to fill NHS vacancies is “immoral” and a “kick in the teeth to UK students”, Labour has said.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said it is a “disgrace” as he claimed the Government “cannot be bothered to train its own” doctors and nurses during a Commons Opposition day debate on NHS workforce expansion.

But health minister Helen Whately defended the Government’s record, saying: “Alongside training more doctors and nurses, recruiting from overseas and giving people from other countries the chance to work in the NHS is the right thing to do.”

Mr Streeting told MPs: “The NHS is having to recruit from countries on the World Health Organisation’s red list, countries that desperately need the few doctors and nurses they have because this Government – our Government – cannot be bothered to train its own.

Health minister Helen Whately
Health minister Helen Whately (PA)

“I think that’s unethical, I think it’s immoral, I think it’s a disgrace and I think it’s a kick in the teeth to UK students who desperately want to be the doctors, the nurses, the midwives, the allied health professionals our country needs.”

He added: “I want to be clear about how much I welcome international students, but it is an absurdity that people are coming to this country to study in medical schools that have no British students.

“It is an absurdity at a time when we have a chronic shortage of doctors, nurses, midwives and allied health professionals that we see straight A students from our own country being turned away while university medical schools are being told they can only recruit international students.

“That is the depths of stupidity that this Government is plumbing.”

Mr Streeting said it is “blindingly obvious that the NHS is desperately in need of more staff”.

He said: “Doctors and nurses are overworked, hospitals are understaffed and the staff are burnt out.

“Patients are waiting longer than ever before and 13 years of the Conservatives’ failure to train enough staff has broken the NHS, leaving patients to pay the price.”

He added: “We will double the number of medical school places so we train 15,000 doctors a year, we will train 10,000 new nurses and midwives every year, we will double the number of district nurses qualifying each year and train 5,000 more health visitors.

“We are clear about how we would pay for it too. We will pay for it by abolishing the non-dom tax status, because patients need doctors and nurses more than a wealthy few need a tax loophole.”

The shadow health secretary questioned NHS reform arguments put forward by Conservative MPs, criticising calls for patients to have to pay for services.

Mr Streeting also claimed “people would stay away” if made to pay for GP appointments.

Ms Whately countered: “Since 2010, we have 35,000 more hospital doctors and 46,000 more nurses and health visitors, not to mention a nearly 50% increase in medical consultants and a near 60% increase in paramedics.”

She added: “The leader of the opposition has said he thinks we’re hiring too many people from overseas in health and care – the same gentleman who spent several years campaigning for a second referendum on freedom of movement.

“Whatever his views this week, it is the work of responsible government to look at every available option when it comes to giving this country the health and care workforce it needs.

“So, alongside training more doctors and nurses, recruiting from overseas and giving people from other countries the chance to work in the NHS is the right thing to do.”

She added: “I also welcome international nurses joining our nursing and midwifery register and make no apology for continuing to encourage bright and talented international doctors to come and work in the NHS. In fact, this is the very idea of the points-based immigration system.”

Addressing Labour’s plans to scrap non-dom status, she said: “We hear about this source of funding again and again and again, that non-doms are going to provide all this money, but there have been plenty of examples where his predecessors in Labour have actually made the point that they don’t think the policy they are suggesting would actually generate any greater income.”