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Extra medical school places confirmed for next year by Department of Health

An extra 500 medical school places in England have been confirmed for next year by the government.

But the RCP and BMA have said it does not address the immediate staff shortages that the NHS is experiencing.

The Department of Health announced in October it planned to add up to 1,500 more places each year – a boost of 25% on current student doctor numbers – and says it will hit that target by 2020.

It is part of a plan to use UK-trained doctors to ease NHS staffing pressures as the demands on NHS services continue to rise.

However, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, Prof Jane Dacre, has warned that “this 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”.

Training to become a doctor takes at least five years and currently about 6,000 graduate each year.

The extra training places in England will ultimately mean 7,500 home-grown doctors should graduate each year.

But, currently, about a quarter of doctors working in the NHS trained outside the UK.

There are concerns that the impact of Brexit and a global shortage of doctors could make it harder to recruit as many in the future.

Some UK-trained medics are also leaving the country to work elsewhere.

BMA medical students committee co-chair Harrison Carter said: “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.”

The Department of Health has announced it is also going to fund an additional 10,000 training places for nurses and allied health professionals.

The RCP’s Dacre welcomed the additional workforce numbers, but said they were needed more urgently.

She said: “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.”

The government wants many of the new training places to go to students from disadvantaged backgrounds to improve diversity in the medical profession.

Medical schools will be able to bid to run some of the extra course places.

Those that can demonstrate they are targeting under-represented social groups, such as poorer students, will be favoured, as will those covering regions that struggle to attract trainee medics – rural areas and coastal towns, for example.

Carter said: “In the past, half of all schools in the UK did not produce a single applicant to medicine and, in 2011, only 4% of medical students came from low income backgrounds. The medical profession should represent the people it serves and it is a progressive step to encourage applications from underrepresented groups.”

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