Five thousand more medical student places should be created – a 50% increase – to make the supply of doctors sustainable, the Medical Schools Council has urged.
The lack of medics coming to the UK from Europe was among the reasons why far more needed to be trained, said the Council in a new report calling for 14,500 students.
Professor Malcolm Reed said: “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.”
He said there was no incentive to the Treasury to increase medical student numbers, because there were no training costs for doctors from abroad.
The Council acknowledged in the report that there were “significant costs” in increasing the numbers being trained in the UK but added it was “right and realistic to commit to the aim of a significant increase” with a clear timescale for achieving the ambition.
Factors that lead the government to keep a tight rein on medical student numbers include expense: it costs £200,000 to train a medical student. Also, placements have to be found within hospitals and surgeries, which would become more difficult with greater numbers.
The Council’s position echoes those of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society of Psychiatrists expressed in their own recent reports.
Working in the NHS
The number of UK doctors joining the medical register was 7,511 in 2019, about the same as in 2015. Over the same period the number of EU doctors fell by almost 7% but those recruited from further afield rose to 7,130.
Although cost and capacity would be an issue for expanding the number of medical student places, said the Council, new methods could be used including apprenticeships and more online teaching. However, it estimated that 13 new medical schools would have to be established, along with expansion of existing medical schools.
The new institutions should be in rural and coastal areas to attract a wider diversity of applicants and provide medical services in shortage areas, said the Council.
Reed said that doctors from overseas would still be needed, even if the number of UK medical students increased substantially.
He added: “The number of EU staff has largely reduced so for nursing and doctors, we’re even more intensely looking to recruit from traditional options such as South Asian countries and the Philippines. These colleagues make amazing contributions to the NHS which would grind to a halt overnight without them and nobody is saying that should end.”
But universities minister Michelle Donelan and health minister Edward Argar have told medical and dentistry schools that they should ensure they are not oversubscribed next year.
This summer they lifted the cap to accommodate extra medicine students, because of Covid disruption to A-level results. Their letter to medical schools said: “As a result more students than ever will be studying on these courses in 2021-22. Active management of medical places is critical.
“It is vital that you ensure that you remain within the intake target during this year’s admissions cycle as these controls will not be adjusted this year under any circumstances. Any students who have deferred entry from 2021 will need to be accommodated within these targets.”