Five new medical schools will open in England over the next three years, as part of the government’s plan to increase the number of medical students by 25% and make the UK “self-sufficient in doctors” by 2025.
These medical schools – opening in Chelmsford, Lincoln, Sunderland, Ormskirk and Canterbury – are being created with the specific purpose of encouraging doctors to train and remain in areas with particular medical staff shortages.
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These areas have traditionally struggled to recruit training doctors and it is thought that training medical students here will encourage students to stay in the area. In addition, the University of Central Lancashire, in Preston, which recently opened their medical school for international students only, will this year have a limited number of placed available for UK students, two of which will be funded with full tuition fees paid along with a maintenance grant.
Places at existing medical schools are also increasing. The 25% increase will mean 1500 additional students per year by 2020. The number of places gained by each medical school can be viewed on the Health Education England website. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, states that this will help to deal with the challenges of the ageing population.
Interestingly, some have been critical of the new medical school strategy, pointing out that training doctors often have little say in where they will work, and are moved around the country regularly. It is argued that trying to solve the problem in this way shows a misunderstanding of the problems facing the healthcare system, and that the focus should instead be on encouraging those already training to want to stay in the NHS by improving existing conditions.
Furthermore, it is important to realise that the potential benefits of the new medical school places will not be felt quickly. The British Medical Association have flagged this up as an issue. The process from entering medical school to becoming a fully qualified GP takes 10 years, and this is the shortest training programme it is possible to undertake.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, warns that we must not forget the short-term pressures faced by the health care system, and that much work is needed to recruit and retain doctors for the immediate crisis, particularly in primary care.
Words: Mariam Al-Attar
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