Lifting cap on medical school places must be backed with long-term support and funding, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Published: Wednesday 19 August 2020

Responding to the Health and Social Care Secretary’s comments this morning that the Government is considering lifting the current cap on medical school places in light of the issues around A-level grading, Dr Helena McKeown, BMA representative body chair, and BMA lead for education, training and workforce, said:

“The BMA has long-campaigned for widening participation in medicine so that all those with the ability and desire to become doctors are given the opportunity to do so. The medical workforce needs to be far more reflective of the diverse patient population it serves, and following the U-turn by Government earlier this week, we have urged medical schools to review the applications of those who were earlier denied places due to the unfair grading process.

“The UK is vastly short of doctors so increasing the number of medics in training makes sense, however this must be followed up with support and funding for both the universities sector and the NHS further down the line. Extra students will require more clinical placements during medical school, more places in the foundation programme for new doctors, and ultimately the need to create more jobs when they fully qualify. We cannot afford to have new doctors finding themselves unemployed in five or 10 years’ time.”

The BMA has also written to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson1, urging for clarity on how the A-levels U-turn will impact medical education and the long-term workforce.

Dr David Strain, BMA medical academic staff committee chair, said:

“For universities, student fees alone do not cover the cost of teaching doctors of the future. With falls in other streams of income since the Covid-19 pandemic, such as charitable research grants, medical schools find themselves under extreme financial pressure, leading to calls for voluntary redundancies and early retirement of clinical teaching staff.

“We already have a shortage of senior medical academics, and by increasing student places without the necessary support, inevitably quality of medical training will suffer. This will be to the detriment of all students, who will be impacted by staff to student ratios, relationships, and mentorship as well as having implications on the future medical workforce. We know that having medical role models plays a significant part in the specialties that students ultimately choose.

“Add into the mix the challenges posed by Covid-19, such as attending work groups and lectures with physical distancing in place, limitations around clinical placements and the need for developing new blended learning pathways – as well as increased teaching space and accommodation - we need assurances that any lifting of a cap is matched with resources to help universities manage, to employ the necessary academic staff and ensure quality and safety is maintained.

“In the long-term, we also need to address the decline in senior clinical academics by increased support for training and ensuring parity is maintained in order to retain talented clinical academics, particularly at mid-career.”

Dr McKeown added:

“We desperately need more doctors and want as many people who show the promise and determination to study medicine to be able to do so, regardless of their background. But we must have assurances that any decision to lift the cap on places is backed with support and funding, and looks far beyond this current political crisis.”



Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. Download the full letter.