EFFORTS to train more doctors at the Friarage Hospital, Northallerton, and help to sustain its long-term future have been backed by Richmond MP Rishi Sunak.
The MP has written to national education chiefs lending his support to local medical schools' plans to expand.
Both Hull York and Newcastle University medical schools have applied to be among the doctor training centres which nationally will recruit an extra 1,500 students a year to become the NHS doctors of the future.
Both Newcastle and Hull York propose to place students with the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust at the Friarage.
In a letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) which pays for young doctors' training, Mr Sunak said the increased student numbers would enable the trust to invest in doctor training at the Friarage.
This would increase the number of trainee doctors on site and because many doctors continue working in the places where they train, potentially increase the number of qualified doctors wanting to work in Northallerton in the future.
Doctor recruitment is a major challenge at the Friarage. The South Tees Trust, which runs the Northallerton hospital, will shortly publish proposals about changes to services at the hospital because of a long-running difficulty recruiting anaesthetists. Mr Sunak fears this may lead to downgrading of A&E and/or critical care.
In his letter to Prof Madelaine Atkins, chief executive of the HEFCE, Mr Sunak adds: "The Friarage is a great institution that performs well in all its evaluations, is loved by its patients and the doctors and nurses have always told me it is a special place to work. The senior doctors there are highly confident they can provide an high quality training ground for medical students.
"Much like other small, rural, district general hospitals, the Friarage experiences recruitment challenges. If not dealt with at source, these can over time threaten the quality and breadth of services such a hospital can offer and this is why I am so keen to support this proposal for more medical students for our area.
"The extra funding that increased student numbers would bring will enable the Trust to invest further at educational infrastructure at the Friarage site. Crucially, it will also expand the pool of doctors who might work at the site in the future. You will be aware of the research about the location of doctors’ training influencing their ultimate choice of workplace."
The Government announced the additional 1,500 medical training places earlier this year. The extra places will be targeted at regions that usually struggle to attract trainee medics, particularly rural and coastal areas.
Mr Sunak added: "Attracting more doctors to work at the Friarage is crucial to its future. As we have discovered this year, this is the biggest threat to sustaining the range of quality services that we currently have there."
Mr Sunak has welcomed extra funding allocated to the South Tees Trust to cope with the extra demand generated by winter.
The Health Minister announced just before Christmas that the South Tees Trust would receive up to £1.7m to cope with winter pressures on the health service. Mr Sunak said he had been in touch with the South Tees Trust to urge it to allocate a fair share of the extra funding to the Friarage.