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BMA accepts cut in student numbers to reduce unemployment

Recommendations to reduce the number of medical students could help alleviate the risk of unemployment among newly qualified doctors, the BMA has agreed.

A government-commissioned report advises a 2 per cent reduction in medical school intakes in England from next year, with the situation revisited in 2014 and reassessed every three years.

The proposals, outlined in The Review of Medical and Dental School Intakes in England, translate into a reduction of 124 students from this year’s target of 6,195.

However, medical schools have exceeded recommended intakes for at least the past five years, with the actual number of students in 2012 reaching 6,377.

Even if the changes are implemented, the report by the Health and Education National Strategic Exchange accepts that they will not be felt for many years owing to the length of medical training.

Delayed reaction

‘Decisions taken now will not impact on the number of fully trained doctors in many medical specialties until around 2025, at the earliest,’ it predicts.

The report, commissioned by the Department of Health and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, also advises keeping the current cap on overseas students at 7.5 per cent but suggests this should be subject to ongoing review.

BMA medical students committee joint deputy chair Melody Redman said she was pleased with the aim of aligning numbers of medical students and junior doctor posts more closely.

She said: ‘The BMA has been concerned for a number of years that there is a real prospect of medical unemployment in the future because there are not enough jobs for the number of freshly qualified doctors leaving medical school.’

The foundation programme has been oversubscribed for three years in a row.

But she insisted: ‘Any changes to medical school numbers must be carefully planned and evaluated in cooperation with the medical profession, and be part of a wider approach to medical workforce planning.’

Academic advice

BMA medical academic staff committee co-chair Michael Rees added that any reduction in student numbers needed to make proper allowances for the needs of medical academics.

He said: ‘There needs to be careful consideration about how the cut will be implemented and its impact on individual schools and their staff. Any decisions to reallocate medical students need to involve medical academic staff and the BMA.’

Launching the report, health minister Dan Poulter said: ‘The government is taking action now so that patients’ needs will continue to be met in 2025, and money is not wasted training more doctors than the NHS requires, who could end up having to go abroad to find work.

‘Regular robust contingency planning ensures there is a close match between medical school places, the future demands for care of patients in the NHS, and junior doctors’ training posts so that supply meets demand.’