Access study to ignore medics

December 10, 2004

A government report on how to widen access to key public-sector professions will no longer look at medicine, despite evidence that medical school applications are still dominated by the highest social classes.

The British Medical Association expressed anger this week that the Department for Education and Skills "gateway into the professions" inquiry, announced in February by Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, had abandoned plans to examine medicine as one of its case studies.

Medicine was top of the list when the report, headed by Sir Alan Langlands, was first announced. But now the department has told the BMA that Sir Alan will focus instead on teaching, social care, law, engineering and architecture.

According to a recent BMA survey, six in ten medical school applicants come from families where the main source of income is a professional or managerial job such as law or accountancy.

The report found that in recent years applicants from these groups were twice as likely to be accepted for medical training as those from working-class backgrounds.

Leigh Bissett, chair of the BMA's student committee, said: "The evidence of a problem in medicine is so compelling that the department does not want to take it into account because... sorting the problem out could cost them a lot of money."

The BMA has urged Sir Alan to reconsider because of "the persistent underrepresentation of students from lower socioeconomic groups and the rapidly changing demography of the profession".

David Gordon, dean of the faculty of medicine at Manchester University and chair of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, said, however, that the Department of Health was already working with medical schools on the widening participation agenda.

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