A leaked email seen by The Northern Echo appears to support claims a new Government policy to boost NHS staff numbers was stolen from Labour.

The email, written by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, suggests ministers adopted their idea of doubling the number of places at medical schools for student doctors.

This plan was announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan on Friday, June 30.

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The email was sent to the now Chancellor’s group Patient Safety Watch on September 28, 2022, of which he is a founder and trustee.

At that time, Mr Hunt was a backbench MP but would soon replace former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng on October 14 after Rishi Sunak replaced Liz Truss as Prime Minister.

In the email, Mr Hunt said: “Despite my obvious political allegiances it would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that Labour has pledged to double the number of medical school places and recruit additional health visitors and district nurses.

"The medical school place increase was something the Select Committee called for in its report on workforce and so is something I very much hope the government also adopts on the basis that smart governments always nick the best ideas of their opponents."

In a press conference on June 30 Rishi Sunak said the new 15-year plan is one that will “deliver the biggest ever expansion in the number of doctors and nurses that we train, and a plan to reform the NHS so we deliver better care in a changing world, and a plan that not only eases the pressures today, but protects this precious national institution for the long term”.

He added: “You can trust this Government with the NHS. The plan rests on three principles, train retain and reform.

“First, training. We’ll double the number of medical training places by 2031, focusing on areas where there are too few doctors today, we’ll train over 24,000 more nurses and midwives a year and increase the number of GP training places by 50%.

“In time, this will allow us to reduce our spending on temporary agency staff by £10 billion and cut the need for international recruitment. Today the proportion recruited from overseas is around one in four – with our plan it will fall to just one in 10.”

Described by the NHS as a “once in a generation opportunity” to increase staffing, £2.4 billion pounds will be allocated by the Treasury to fund the educational places.

This news comes months after Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting visited Richardson Community Hospital in Barnard Castle in February 2023, pledging to axe the non-dom tax and double medical school places to rate to fund the NHS.

Speaking exclusively to The Northern Echo, Mr Streeting said: “We’ll double the number of medical school places, increase nursing and clinical training places by 10,000 a year, double the number of district nurses qualifying, and train up 5,000 more health visitors.”

“We’ll fund that by abolishing the non-dom tax status because we think that wealthy people that make Britain their home should pay their taxes here too.”

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Now, four months on, the Shadow Minister has reacted to the news by insisting that the pledge to double medical school places was a Labour one.

He said: “The Conservatives have finally admitted they have no ideas of their own, so are adopting Labour’s plan to train the doctors and nurses the NHS needs. They should have done this a decade ago - then the NHS would have enough staff today.

“Instead, the health service is short of 150,000 staff and this announcement will take years to have an impact. It will be left to the next Labour government to rescue the NHS from the biggest crisis in its history, and renew the service to make it fit for the future.”

Labour MP candidate for Bishop Auckland, Dr Sam Rushworth, who joined Mr Streeting in his visit to Barnard Castle has now claimed he “doesn’t trust” the Conservatives anymore.

He said: “Life under the Tories is like an abusive relationship. They keep promising to be different and say all the right things, but they never change.

“No matter how many times they switch the Prime Minister or pump out a new slogan, the reality is thirteen years of falling living standards and dismantling our NHS.

“Only last summer they lowered the cap on training places for doctors to 7,500, shattering the dreams of local young people who had worked hard to get the grades to go to medical school and robbing the NHS of the future doctors it so badly needs.”

Dr Rushworth has previously been a passionate advocate for increasing medical school places. In February during a visit from Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, he exclusively told The Northern Echo that young people are missing out because of the lack of places.

He said: “There are young people here in Barnard Castle, and I’ve met them, who got straight As in their A-Levels and they wanted to go to med school, and there were not enough places.

“The government lowered the cap on the number of doctors being trained, right at the moment when we actually need more doctors.”

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However, Conservative MP for Darlington Peter Gibson has expressed his joy at the news that he believes will be part of the “solution” to fix the NHS.

He said: “I am delighted the Government is delivering on its commitment to develop a long term workforce plan for the NHS.

“As we work on delivering the fourth key priority of the British people, in reducing the waiting list, this is a key milestone and a tremendous opportunity for people who might not have considered working in health before to be part of the solution to our wonderful NHS.”

Rishi Sunak and ministers hailed the significance of the plan when it was launched this week, stressing the Conservatives’ commitment to the NHS.

Officials also said the plan would have a “renewed focus on retention” – with more flexible working options and better career development.

It is hoped the plans, along with reforms to pension schemes, could mean up to 130,000 staff stay working in NHS settings longer.

Health leaders have also agreed that the plan needs to be revised every two years to accommodate changing needs across the service.

It comes after years of difficult and draining winters for the health service, with concerns over staffing, funding and the future of the NHS.

Former health minister Lord Bethell used the word “rationing” to describe the current approach to treatment, as millions of patients complain of lengthy delays for treatment.

“If someone has a need for an operation and you simply don’t have the resources to give them what they need then you are going beyond the important protocols of allocating scarce resources in the best way possible and you are being defined by the amount of resources that you have available,” he told the BBC.