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Government won’t rule out plugging NHS holes with retired medics

Number 10 could consider repeating pandemic measure as spokesperson vows to ‘consider all options’

Ruby Lott-Lavigna
10 January 2023, 12.54pm

NHS Staff nurses on a hospital ward

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PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The government could consider using retired doctors and student nurses to help ease the NHS staffing shortage, in an echo of measures deployed during the pandemic.

As the health service faces one of its worst crises in history and nurses and ambulance workers strike, the prime minister’s official spokesperson today twice refused to rule out recruiting retired doctors or student nurses who have not yet fully qualified to help out.

“It's important we consider all options, and that work has been taking place in advance of this winter,” he said – but conceded that recruiting doctors who have already retired, and fast-tracking student nurses into the workplace, would create “significant challenges”.

Asked whether the government would rule it out, he added: “We are in the midst of the winter period. I think we're introducing the right approaches to get the most out of the money we’re investing in the NHS."

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More than 12,000 second- and final-year nursing and midwifery students were recruited into the NHS in early 2020 to help the health service manage the influx of patients hospitalised by Covid.

And 5,000 former NHS staff, including doctors, rejoined in the early months of the pandemic after being called up to help.

Rishi Sunak held his first cabinet meeting of 2023 this morning. Health secretary Steve Barclay discussed mitigations available for winter pressures, but not staff shortages specifically, Number 10 confirmed.

According to the British Medical Association, four in ten junior doctors are considering leaving the NHS as soon as possible, while nurses are staging a series of walkouts for the first time in history.

In December research by Labour revealed that NHS bosses were spending £1bn a year on agency doctors, with 9,000 vacant posts in secondary care.

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