Jeremy Hunt is set to announce a multi-million-pound boost to medical training as part of a plan to ease labour shortages in the NHS, i understands.

The Chancellor, who was previously Britain’s longest-serving health secretary, has privately promised senior medics he will fund a significant increase in university places for would-be doctors and nurses.

Health leaders are pushing for a doubling in capacity as evidence shows as many as 80 per cent of NHS workers believe the service does not have enough staff to operate properly.

Before taking over at the Treasury, Mr Hunt chaired the House of Commons health committee and repeatedly pushed for a comprehensive NHS workforce plan.

The number of medical school places is capped because of the high cost to the government of funding their degrees but the NHS has repeatedly complained that not enough graduates are coming forward to fill vacancies, meaning it is forced to recruit from abroad.

The workforce plan was originally due to be published next week alongside the Budget, but has now been delayed until later in the month. However, the Chancellor has committed to increasing funding as long as the NHS guarantees it will try out measures which would improve productivity among the workforce.

Nurses protest during a strike by NHS medical workers, amid a dispute with the government over pay, outside University College London Hospital in London, Britain, February 6, 2023. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Nurses protest during a strike by NHS medical workers (Photo: Reuters)

A Treasury source said: “Anyone who’s listened to Jeremy over the past four years, all he has ever said is he wants a fully independent scheme for more doctors and nurses. He is going to do it, and he is going to do it properly.”

Doubling the number of places in medical school from 7,500 to 15,000 per year would cost an extra £1.85bn annually, the Royal College of Physicians has estimated.

In an NHS England staff survey carried out over the autumn, just 21 per cent of nurses and midwives said they were confident that there were enough staff in their workplace for them to deliver high-quality care, lower even than during the pandemic.

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Patricia Marquis of the Royal College of Nursing said: “Chronic staff shortages create stress and suffering for everyone in health care – day after day, week after week – it is patients who ultimately feel the impact of these compounding pressures.”

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, added: “NHS staff are slogging their guts out, but there simply aren’t enough of them. Staff are exasperated by how overstretched they are, and one in three wouldn’t be happy for their family to be treated by their service.

“We cannot go on like this. Jeremy Hunt should swallow his pride and nick Labour’s plan to double medical school places and train 10,000 more nurses in his Budget next week.”

NHS England declined to comment ahead of the expected announcement.

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