The NHS has a shortage of doctors in many different specialities – especially psychiatry, general practice, emergency medicine and paediatrics. To tackle this problem, the GMC announced in 2016 that it was going to open new Medical Schools, with an aim to boost the number of doctors and reduce the reliance on international graduates.
From 2018, the government pledged to create 1,500 additional Medical School places – a 25% increase. This meant that in 2020, there were around 7,500 places available, compared to 6,000 previously.
Some of this was driven by an expansion of existing Medical Schools, such as in the Universities of Hull, York and Exeter. Five new Medical Schools were also opened, taking on around 400 students each year between them.
In 2021, there were 9,000 Medical School places available altogether, because the government adjusted the cap on numbers. A combination of grade inflation and a record number of applicants resulted in an unexpectedly high number of students qualifying for their place.
The new Medical Schools are located in Sunderland, Chelmsford, Canterbury, Lincoln and Lancashire. Research shows that doctors tend to stay and work in the area where they trained, so the new Medical Schools are in regions where trusts struggle to recruit.
The GMC has tight protocols when considering applications to create new Medical Schools, and universities must tender bids to apply to provide medical training.
The new Medical Schools will encourage doctors to train and then work in areas which have particular medical staff shortages and difficult-to-fill vacancies. It is hoped that the UK will ultimately have enough medical graduates to support the NHS in a sustainable manner and to strengthen the workforce. This will help to address current staffing challenges, as well as the growing issue of an ageing population.
Professor Wendy Reid, Director of Education and Quality and Medical Director of Health Education England, said: “The 25 per cent increase in places shows there is a real commitment to a sustainable future home-grown medical workforce, making us self-sufficient in the supply of doctors for years to come, giving more young people from diverse backgrounds the chance to become a doctor.”
However, the BMA has pointed out that it will be several years before the benefits of the new Medical Schools will be felt in the NHS workforce.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “In welcoming the long-term benefits that these schools will inevitably bring for general practice and the wider NHS, we must not forget the short term pressures. It takes at least 10 years to train to be a fully qualified GP from entering medical school, but we need thousands more GPs now. We must work together, pulling out all the stops, to recruit more people to general practice, to make it easier for people to return to the profession after a career break or period working abroad, and to retain the experienced, skilled workforce we already have.”
With more places available, more people who have the potential to become doctors will have the opportunity to do so. However, getting into medical school will still be challenging.
There was a record number of Med School applicants for 2021 entry, which was a 21% increase from the previous year. We have also seen an increase in people sitting the UCAT for 2022 entry, with a 9% increase from the previous year. It is not yet known if the cap on Medical School places will still be lifted for 2022 entry. This means that getting into Medicine is more competitive than ever, so you can increase your chances of standing out with thorough Interview preparation.
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