These medical schools – opening in Chelmsford, Lincoln, Sunderland, Ormskirk and Canterbury – were created with the specific purpose of encouraging doctors to train and remain in areas with particular medical staff shortages.
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 1,500 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.
The GMC has a tight protocol when considering applications to create new Medical Schools, and universities must tender bids to apply to provide medical training. However, it is clear that the locations of the new Medical Schools aim to change the demographic of where many Junior Doctors apply from and end up working in order to ensure there are enough doctors to fill difficult to recruit vacancies.
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. However, research shows that doctors tend to stay and practice in the area where they trained, hence the new medical schools are in regions from which trusts struggle to recruit.
It’s 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 of 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.
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”.
Whilst there will be more places available, getting into Medical School is still going to be tough. It will mean that more people who have the potential to become doctors will have the opportunity to do so. It is hoped that after 2025 the UK will have enough Medical graduates to support the NHS in a sustainable and predictable manner and strengthen the workforce to face the current staffing challenges.
Words: Mariam Al-Attar
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