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Reaction: Department of Health commit to increasing medical school numbers

BMA medical students committee co-chair Harrison Carter

“It’s reassuring that the government is committed to increasing access to medical school for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This has been something the BMA has campaigned and lobbied on for many years and today’s announcement reflects much of what the BMA called for in its response to the consultation1.

“In the past, half of all schools in the UK did not produce a single applicant to medicine and, in 2011, only four per cent of medical students came from low income backgrounds2. The medical profession should represent the people it serves and it is a progressive step to encourage applications from underrepresented groups.

“Medical graduates tend to continue to train and work in the region of their medical school so patients will benefit from a focus on recruiting students to universities in rural or coastal areas, but recruitment efforts need to be backed up by high-quality NHS training placements and incentives to study in these regions.

“Any increase in places must be matched with sufficient funding and resources to ensure universities are able to maintain educational standards and provide a high-quality educational experience for students. The number of foundation training posts must also be increased to reflect the larger number of graduating medical students so no doctor faces unemployment after qualifying.

“The students who will benefit from these new placements will take at least ten years to train and become senior doctors so we mustn’t forget this promise won’t tackle the immediate shortage of doctors in the NHS which could become more acute following Brexit. As such we require equal focus on retaining existing doctors in high-quality jobs which will provide more immediate relief to an overstretched medical workforce.

“Medical students also need clarity on whether they must work for the NHS for a minimum number of years following graduation. This proposal isn’t necessary as only a small minority of doctors do not complete their training in the NHS and it would only serve to worsen poor morale and potentially discourage students from choosing medicine. It could also be discriminatory towards women, who are more likely to take more career breaks than men.”

RCP president Professor Jane Dacre

“We welcome the government’s announcement today which responds to the RCP’s 2016 report, Underfunded, underdoctored, overstretched, calling for more medical school places.  But this is no quick fix and will not create new consultants before 2030, as it takes at least 13 years to train a consultant and last year alone half of advertised substantive consultant physician vacancies were unfilled.

“The RCP has long argued that the NHS needs more doctors and this increase in medical school places will relieve some of the pressures faced by the NHS, and support a more sustainable workforce. We also welcome the increase in nursing numbers, the focus on inclusion to open the access to medical school to people from disadvantaged backgrounds and boost trainee places in areas which have had difficulty attracting them. The RCP will do everything it can to support this focus.

“More doctors and other healthcare professionals are urgently needed to meet the year-on-year rise in demand for healthcare. This announcement does not tackle today’s pressures, the rota gaps, the bottlenecks in patient access and the troubling situation in social care; all of which are causing significant impacts on the quality of patient care and staff morale. Staff shortages and rota gaps are the greatest threat to patient safety and we also need to support other increases across the caring professions such as physician associates, mental health professionals, nurses and in primary and community health services.

“Medicine is brilliant and one of the most rewarding professions. But we must make it accessible, attractive and a role people want to stay and feel respected and valued in.”

Kevin Crimmons, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Adult Nursing, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Birmingham City University

“The news that the Department of Health are going to fund an additional 10,000 training places for nurses and allied health professionals is obviously to be welcomed. However, as with  all Government announcements, the devil will be in the detail to follow! How many of these places will be for nurses, and how will they be split across the four fields of nursing? When you then spread these numbers across all of the universities and then clinical areas with an immediate requirement for trained staff, the headline figure does not appear as generous as it first appears.

“We have seen a significant downturn in the number of applicants this year, due to the removal of the bursary and introduction of tuition fees. The other challenge is an erosion of available placement opportunities due to the increasingly challenging environment clinical areas see themselves having to manage.

“Support for attracting students into the profession and then supporting their clinical experience needs to be far more nuanced if the Government has any expectations of achieving this headline target.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers and deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation

“We welcome today’s announcement from the Department of Health confirming the major long term expansion of the NHS medical workforce, and look forward to seeing these plans bear fruit in the years to come.

“Employers are making sterling efforts to recruit talented health and care staff across the board, but we also know there is growing demand for these staff, as highlighted by recent NHS vacancy figures.

“It will of course take some time for the full benefit of these additional staff to be felt.  We look forward to working with the government to ensure an immigration system that complements domestic efforts – this will help to ensure we have the staff we need to provide first class care in the 21st century.”

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