NHS ‘in need of 5,000 more medical students’ as numbers from EU drop

·3 min read
The council is calling for a 50 per cent increase in medical students  (PA)
The council is calling for a 50 per cent increase in medical students (PA)

The NHS is in need of 5,000 more medical students to maintain a sustainable supply of doctors and cope with a drop in numbers coming from Europe, the Medical Schools Council said in a new report.

The body which represents the UK’s medical schools has called for a 50 per cent increase in medical students and warned that criticisms of GPs could put new doctors off entering into general practice.

The council says the additional 5,000 new spaces are needed, which would come at a cost of £1 billion and take the total trained number to 14,500.

On the pressure on GPs, Professor Malcom Reed, chairman of the council said the signals from general practice picked up from students are “very negative.”

“The very public criticism of the public conversation about general practice, particularly in relation to issues like face-to-face or remote consultations is very damaging for GPs’ and public confidence. While these issues need to be addressed, the nature of these criticisms is very damaging in the short and potentially long term,” he added.

The government was accused of criticising GPs over face-to-face appointments after health secretary Sajid Javid announced league tables for GPs offering face-to-face appointments.

Today’s report is the first time the Medical Schools Council has spoken on the issue of UK doctors joining the workforce. The report shows that the number of UK doctors was the same in 2019 as 2015 (7,511), but over the same period the number of EU doctors fell by almost 7 per cent while recruitment from outside of the EU trebled to 7,130 in the same time period.

“It is not that international doctors are not as good as those who qualified in the UK but the question is really whether a highly developed country like the UK should be reliant on other countries for their doctors and nurses,” Professor Reed said.

He added: “Jeremy Hunt [who was health secretary] said in 2017 that the NHS needed to have a long-term view for the sustainability of doctors. This has been stated on a number of occasions but not happened to the extent required”.

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The report called for an additional 13 new medical schools and also an expansion of existing medical schools to meet the required number of doctors. It admitted, however, that costs and capacity of increasing medical school places would be an issue. New methods suggested include apprenticeships and more online teaching.

Prospective medical students at Exeter University were offered free accommodation and £10,000 to defer their medical school place as a record number of students applied for medical school this autumn. The number of places for medicine in England is usually capped by the government largely due to the subsidy needed to fund students, which is around £180,000.

This summer the Department of Education announced it was lifting its cap to accommodate extra medical students due to Covid A-level disruption but Michelle Donelan, the universities minister and Edward Argar, a health minister, instructed medical and dentistry schools to adjust their offer making this year to ensure they weren’t oversubscribed this year.

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