A statement on changes to UKFPO Applications for Specialised Foundation Programme (SFP)

by the medical students committee and the medical academic staff committee

BMA statement

Published: Thursday 15 February 2024
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We are extremely disappointed by UKFPO’s announcement on 14 February 2024 from the UK health bodies, that all applications for SFP are to be brought within the Preference Information Allocation (PIA) system.  

The academic component of the SFP represents a vital gateway to a clinical academic career and is a crucial component of the integrated academic training pathway, ensuring a pipeline of clinical academics to consultant and GP level and beyond. It is essential that there should not be a gap in opportunities for exposure to academic medicine between experience at medical school and specialty training. By removing the opportunity for foundation programmes to select the most suitable candidates, this change will undermine the purpose and continued viability of these programmes and the hard work students have put in to apply to the SFP. 

We were previously told by the UKFPO that any changes to the SFP were only a consideration at an early stage and that the BMA would have input into the process and should any decision be made, it would not be implemented until FP2026 at the earliest. Changing the process for FP2025, means that current penultimate year students who have worked towards careers in academia, medical education or leadership with the trust that the SFP system will still exist, and will be demoralised and taken aback by this sudden change. 

We were clear in our response to the 2023 UKFPO Stakeholder Engagement exercise that this is not the right approach for SFP. It is frustrating that this decision has been made when there were a range of valid alternatives on the table for ensuring some degree of consistency in approach to SFP applications that would have still allowed foundation schools freedom to adapt their process to their own needs. It is disappointing that the UK health bodies have taken this decision before these alternatives could be given serious consideration by the BMA and the other members of the UKFPO Board, and while there is significant opposition to the decision from medical students and academics. 

We believe that, in the absence of academic opportunities being made available to all, recruitment to the programme must be done on the basis of aptitude for an academic career, as well as the availability of appropriate opportunities and supervision in the applicant’s chosen location. It is our strong view that provision should now be made to allow academics to have an opportunity to evaluate SFP applications in the period between the initial foundation school allocation and the programme allocation. This will allow students’ merits to be appropriately recognised so the most suitable candidates are successful, rather than using the PIA algorithm system alone. While this will severely limit the amount of decision-making time, it will at least ensure that academics have an opportunity to influence the process and ensure the future validity of the SFP and we have now written to appropriate health bodies in England and Scotland to make this case while next steps are being considered for Wales and Northern Ireland.