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Doctors warn new medical school places won’t ease workforce woes

An additional 500 places for medical students will be made available in England next year, the DH today revealed. However, a number of health bodies have argued this will not ease the NHS’s underlying workforce woes and that the plans must be backed up with fresh funding.

It follows an announcement last year that the government would be creating a ‘home grown workforce’ by offering up to 1,500 extra training places a year – amounting to a 25% boost on current student doctor numbers by 2020.

The plans also include a drive to create a more diverse workforce and get more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to work for the NHS.

Medical schools will now be able to bid to run the extra 1,000 course places, but those who can demonstrate that they are specifically aiming to give places to people from under-represented groups will be particularly favoured. The places will lead to a total of 7,500 doctors from the UK graduating each year.

“We’re committed to giving more talented students the chance to be part of our world-class NHS workforce,” said health minister Philip Dunne.

“Not only is this the biggest ever expansion to the number of doctor training places, but it’s also one of the most inclusive; ensuring everyone has the chance to study medicine regardless of their background, and ensuring the NHS is equipped for the future with doctors serving in the areas that need them the most.”  

Medical schools bidding for the places will also have to demonstrate that they are addressing the problem of a lack of graduate doctors working in coastal and rural locations in the UK, who often struggle to bring in talented young doctors.

On top of the plans for more doctors, DH will also create 10,000 additional training places for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals, to be funded by the government.

This will, the department said, lead to around 100,000 training places becoming available between now and 2020 – representing a 11% rise on figures.

“For too long, a cap on training places has meant thousands of talented students are rejected from university courses each year despite meeting requirements for medicine or nursing,” Dunne stated. “These students will now be able to fulfil their potential as our future NHS nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.”

Students need clarity on proposals

However, a number of health organisations have raised concern that the new places will not address the NHS’s underlying problems unless it is backed up with fresh funding.

The BMA’s medical students committee co-chair Harrison Carter said that though it was encouraging that the government was heeding the call to create a more inclusive workforce, but that the places were unlikely to have a real impact on easing the NHS’s recruitment woes.

“Any increase in places must be matched with sufficient funding, and an increase in the number of university-based teachers to ensure universities are able to maintain educational standards and provide a high-quality educational experience for students,” Carter explained.

“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 BMA committee co-chair also argued that the students who will benefit from the new placements will take at least 10 years to train and become seniors, adding that the promise won’t tackle the immediate shortage of doctors in the NHS that could be worsened by EU workers leaving after Brexit.

“Medical students also need clarity on whether they must work for the NHS for a minimum number of years following graduation,” he continued.

“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.”

And Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), stated: “The health and care system desperately needs proper workforce planning. It’s unclear where extra nursing students will come from, when the removal of student funding is putting many people off entering the profession.

“When it comes to the future supply of nurses, the government is turning off the tap - nursing degree applications have fallen sharply and the pay cap is forcing many nurses out of the job they love.

“It’s time for ministers to face facts: they will struggle to build a strong and resilient workforce unless they lift the cap on pay and reinstate student funding,” she concluded.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, added that 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,” he said. “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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