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500 Extra Medical School Places – and What That Means for You

You will have heard the news that the government has announced an extra 500 medical school places for next year. So: what are the new plans and how does this affect you? Read on to find out more!

What are the government’s plans?

Following the Department of Health’s announcement in October 2016 promising to create up to 1,500 new medical school places per year, the government have now confirmed 500 extra medical school places in England next year. Although not yet reaching its target of a 25% increase in places, the government’s plan is to do so by 2020.

The underlying aim is to create a larger workforce of UK-trained doctors, in order to relieve the current pressures on staffing levels in the NHS. With hospitals chronically understaffed and desperately trying to fill rota gaps in any way possible, and concerns that the impact of Brexit will make it even harder to recruit in the future, such a plan is widely welcomed. However, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that it does not resolve the immediate problems at hand, especially with UK-trained doctors leaving the UK en masse to work abroad, or even leaving medicine entirely.

The new medical school places will not be evenly distributed across the country; the idea is that these places will help to diversify the medical profession. As such, medical schools who prove that their selection processes target underrepresented groups, such as those from disadvantaged backgrounds, will be more likely to gain the extra places. The government also aims for these places to go to medical schools in areas of the country that have difficulty in recruiting medics, for example, rural and coastal regions.

What do extra medical school places mean for you?

For aspiring medical students from the UK, this means slightly less competition. This is great news for applicants, and will hopefully reduce medical schools’ need to differentiate between candidates with practically identical applications, making the whole process a little fairer.

In particular, those from disadvantaged backgrounds will gain fairer access to medical school spots, as those schools with schemes that promote widened participation will gain more places. Furthermore, students applying to rural and coastal regions may find a better chance of acceptance.

However, for international students applying to study medicine in the UK, these changes also represent more costly tuition fees, as Jeremy Hunt has stated that the cost of these extra places will be borne by international students.

It is unclear whether the government still intends to impose the mandatory term of NHS service proposed by Jeremy Hunt last year at the Conservative party conference. This was initially announced alongside the new medical school places, with doctors who do not complete the service facing fines of up to £220,000, covering the cost of their training. However, the government’s latest announcement comes with no mention of this.

Who benefits from these plans?

For hopeful medical students from the UK, these plans will have a positive impact. Health Minister Philip Dunne has said, ‘Not only is this the biggest ever expansion to the number of doctor training places, but it’s also one of the most inclusive’. It should help to make the application system fairer, as well as encouraging medical schools to improve their selection process by breaking down some of the barriers to studying medicine faced by students across the country.

In the long-term, the plans may go some way in helping the NHS staffing problem. It is hoped that a greater workforce will help to improve staffing levels and reduce the number of exhausted, over-worked doctors. This, in turn, should have a positive impact on the care that patients receive.

Are there any issues?

Whether or not these plans are sufficient to make a difference to the current healthcare crisis remains to be seen. It is being argued by some that this is not enough. Co-chair of the BMA medical students committee Harrison Carter has said that these places are unlikely to have any real impact, unless they are matched with sufficient funding and an increase in the number of university-based medical educators, as well as an increase in the number of foundation training posts.

Regardless of whether enough is being done, the impact of this announcement certainly won’t be seen for a number of years.

Words: Mariam Al-Attar

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