It does not cost the public £500,000 to train a doctor

17 July 2023
What was claimed

Tax payers pay £500,000 to train a doctor.

Our verdict

Incorrect. While it may cost roughly this much to train a senior doctor, the cost to train someone until they become a junior doctor is much less.

What was claimed

Almost half of the doctors trained in the UK later move to Australia or New Zealand.

Our verdict

This seems unlikely to be true. About 19% of UK-trained doctors who left the register or gave up their licence last year said they were doing so to move abroad.

It costs nearly half a million pounds of our money to train a GP or a surgeon. Currently, they are free to take advantage of our subsidised training, then later move to Australia or New Zealand — as almost half do — and not pay a penny back!

We tax payers pay half a million £ to train a doctor and when they are qualified, almost half of them from some medical schools head to Australia or NZ.

In an article in the Daily Mail, and a tweet sharing it the following day, the former health minister Nadine Dorries made several slightly different claims about the cost of training doctors.

Although the cost to public funds of training someone all the way to their qualification as a GP or a surgeon could get close to £500,000 (as Ms Dorries claimed in the Mail) the cost of training someone until they are a doctor (as she said in her tweet) is much less.

Full Fact has asked Ms Dorries for the source of her claim in the Mail that “almost half” of doctors, GPs or surgeons who trained in the UK later move to Australia or New Zealand, but we have not heard back.

We have not been able to find conclusive evidence on this point, but based on the evidence we have, it appears unlikely to be true.

Politicians must use accurate figures when talking about UK public services—and provide evidence to show this. Otherwise they risk misinforming voters about the state of the country, which can damage the democratic process.

Honesty in public debate matters

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What does it cost to train a doctor?

In order to qualify as a doctor at the most junior level, a candidate must usually study for five years at medical school. The government pays part of the cost for these courses, and offers a range of different student loans and grants.

The Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) at the University of Kent produces estimates for the cost of training different kinds of doctors. The 2022 edition of these estimates suggests that the total cost of training someone until they finish medical school is £244,730.

As we wrote in 2016, the money doesn’t necessarily all come from public funds, however. Some is paid by the students themselves, either directly or through loans that most eventually repay.

A government estimate in 2018 found that loans accounted for about 28% of the cost. If this is still true then the ultimate cost from public money of training a doctor now would be around £175,000.

Even if a doctor moves abroad, they are still supposed to repay their student loan.

What about more senior doctors? 

Students who have completed medical school are initially registered as doctors in their first year of work. They then continue to train for a number of years afterwards in order to become more skilled.

During this period, the government continues to pay the cost of training them, as well as contributing to the salary they’re paid while being trained. When PSSRU includes these costs, it estimates that the cost of training the more senior grades ranges between about £312,051 for a doctor completing their first year of work and £430,540 for a GP or £584,102 for a consultant (which includes surgeons).

These figures also include earlier undergraduate costs, which may have been paid in part by the students themselves, perhaps indirectly through loans. Doctors must pay tax on their salaries too, so a portion of this cost effectively comes back to public funds.

In short, Ms Dorries was wrong to say in her tweet that it costs the public about £500,000 to train a doctor. But the approximate cost of training a GP or a surgeon may be “nearly half a million”, as she said in her newspaper article.

How many UK-trained doctors move abroad?

The claim from Ms Dorries about doctors moving abroad came in two slightly different forms.

In her newspaper article, she said that almost half of GPs and surgeons move to Australia and New Zealand after qualifying. In her tweet, she said it was almost half of doctors “from some medical schools”.

Ms Dorries hasn’t responded to our question about exactly what she meant, and we’ve not been able to find the same claim being made elsewhere.

We’ve also not been able to find data showing the proportion of UK-trained doctors (or GPs or surgeons) who subsequently move to Australia or New Zealand (perhaps broken down by the medical school where they trained).

A rough estimate using the data we have suggests that the claim is unlikely to be true, however.

What we do know

For one thing, most UK-trained doctors don’t leave their job soon after graduating. For example, data from the General Medical Council shows that about 89% of the doctors who graduated in the UK and joined the medical register in 2015 were still registered in 2021—and not all of the people who left the register will have moved abroad.

Indeed about 24% of all doctors who left the register or gave up their licence to practise in the year to May 2022 said that the main reason was that they wanted to practise abroad. The figure for doctors whose primary medical qualification was from the UK was lower, at 19%. In the same year, a total of 1,284 doctors said they left to practise in Australia or New Zealand, 898 of them British nationals.

Yet OECD data shows that there have typically been around 8,000 to 9,000 new medical graduates per year in the UK over the past decade.

OECD data also shows that there were 9,725 UK-trained doctors working in Australia or New Zealand in 2021, which is the latest year for which we have data on both countries.

In other words, if it were true that almost half of the doctors trained in the UK moved to Australia or New Zealand, that ought to add an average of roughly 4,000 a year to their combined total, which would be an enormous share of the UK-trained doctors in those countries.

To reiterate: these figures do not conclusively disprove Ms Dorries’ claim. We also don’t know what the numbers would look like if we focused only on GPs or surgeons, or split them up by medical school.

However, on the face of it, it does seem unlikely that almost half of the doctors who trained in the UK go on to move to Australia or New Zealand. 

Image courtesy of UK Government

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, The Daily Mail amended its article and added a footnote. 

We contacted Nadine Dorries to request a correction regarding her tweet. 

Ms Dorries did not respond.

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