Whatever is said about the problems in the NHS at present, it is has been clear for some time that a primary problem is the shortage of medical staff – and that this is quite clearly because far too few are trained.

The shortage would be even worse if about half of the new NHS doctors, nurses and midwives registered in the UK were not people who received their training abroad.

It is quite unbelievable in this situation that the government will only ‘produce a workforce plan’ this year.

Meanwhile it has been capping (below the increased numbers allowed in 2021) the number of medical school places the universities can offer.

The new Brunel University Medical School took 105 international students in October 2022 but has no UK-funded students. On its website it is still only able to say it is open to international students only for October 2023 admissions.

Training medical staff takes years and so it is quite fair to lay much of the blame for the current situation on our MP Jeremy Hunt – the health secretary from 2012 to 2018.

In his later position as chair of the Health Select Committee, he did accept the problem of insufficient training places – with his committee saying (last July) that in the absence of a workforce plan it would accept the suggestion from the medical colleges that the number of trainee doctors needed to rise from 9,500 to 14,500 (more than 50 per cent).

Challenged about the failure to increase substantially the training numbers under his watch, he will point to the financial constraint under which he was operating.

But he is now chancellor and all his autumn statement said on funding medical training was that the government was ‘committed to publishing a comprehensive workforce plan in 2023 with independently-verified workforce forecasts.’

Maybe this is meant to imply he ‘will do what it takes’ – but it doesn’t say so explicitly, and why the delay and why no ring-fenced interim funding for a very substantial increase for this coming academic year?

Meanwhile the government refuse to negotiate on nurses’ pay. Whatever the theoretical merits of the nurses’ case, in the normal world of business and economics, if there is a shortage salaries go up – which would at least encourage some to stay on or return to nursing.

Meanwhile it has been pointed out that while there is a significant shortage of staff, the NHS is saving a significant amount on pay which could be used to increase the pay of those actually working.

As far as the NHS is concerned, we just don’t seem to have a competent government, even after all the recent changes.

Stewart Edge

Farnham Liberal Democrats