Plaid Cymru plan would wipe junior doctors' debts in Wales

Doctor (generic) Plaid Cymru wants to increase the number of bilingual doctors

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Junior doctors who decide to work in Wales could get their student debts paid off under proposals unveiled by Plaid Cymru.

The debts - about £75,000 on average - would be wiped in exchange for a commitment to work in Wales for a number of years.

The party said 1,000 extra doctors were needed to boost what it called a "creaking Welsh health service".

Welsh Labour accused Plaid Cymru of playing "fantasy politics".

Wiping debts is part of a series of health policy proposals for consultation by the party.

A Plaid Cymru government could also offer bursaries and set new quotas for Welsh-speaking medical students to increase the number able to work bilingually.

Analysis

The idea is based on similar schemes elsewhere including one in New Zealand, to encourage doctors to work in hard-to-staff areas. Their student debt is wiped in exchange for a commitment to work in Wales for a set period of time.

Plaid Cymru says a similar scheme was successful in recruiting new dentists when it was in coalition government with Labour.

The party says the NHS should do more to attract funding for research such as clinical trials to attract top-calibre staff.

It also wants to increase the number of places at the three medical schools in Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor.

It would consider making studying at medical school free for Welsh children.

The party says there should be bursaries for Welsh speakers and guaranteed places for those who speak the language and achieve the required grades.

As a short-term solution about 100 doctors from abroad would be recruited to plug specific gaps.

The party claimed that if enough new doctors were recruited, there would be less need to centralise some hospital services.

This would result, for example, in every district general hospital being able to keep an accident and emergency department, said Plaid.

The party has said previously it would fund more doctors by introducing a tax on sugary drinks.

Plaid Cymru health spokesperson Elin Jones told BBC Radio Wales it would be possible to implement their plans using the current health budget but it would be "useful" additional tax-raising powers that Wales will have in the next 10 years.

She defended the proposal to tax sugary drinks, saying: "It's a well-understood principle that substances that are harmful to individuals are taxed.

"[Sugary drinks] are probably doing some harm and I think that's accepted now as we discuss the obesity crisis in Wales and the western world.

"Sugary drinks are a significant contribution to that and we could look in Wales at lowering our dependence on [them] and raising revenue."

Some states of the USA already imposed such a tax, she added.

Ms Jones said the proposals overall were about taking a "long-term approach" to NHS recruitment problems in Wales.

"For decades governments at both ends of the M4 have treated problems in our NHS with a sticking plaster," she said.

"Unfortunately the short-termism has now come home to roost which is why we are in such a difficult position in our hospitals," she said.

'Solid foundations'

"The policies Plaid Cymru is now consulting on will look to secure firm foundations on which our NHS can survive and thrive for generations to come."

Responding to the new policy proposals, Welsh Labour's Pontypridd AM Mick Antoniw said: "Are the nationalists seriously suggesting that their discredited 'pop tax' would mean that NHS modernisation and restructuring would no longer be necessary?

"At best this is economically illiterate gibberish, at worst Plaid Cymru is trying to play a disgraceful con trick on people who work in, and rely on, our NHS in Wales.

"Plaid is infatuated with playing fantasy politics knowing full well its vacuous policies have no chance of seeing the light of day as the third party of Welsh politics."

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