Fast-track medical students on a flagship government scheme are set to lose thousands of pounds in National Health Service bursaries following a ruling that they will be means-tested on their parents' income.
The students, who have already completed biosciences degrees and are on a four-year graduate-entry medical course, expected the NHS to means-test the bursaries on their personal income.
But unless they are at least 25 or married, they will be tested on their parents' income.
Four medical schools are involved in the scheme, which was set up to boost the number of doctors in the United Kingdom. Leicester-Warwick - which have a joint medical training consortium - and St George's Medical School admitted their first graduate-entry students in 2000. Oxford and Cambridge universities will admit their first entrants this autumn.
A University of Warwick spokesman said: "When the students started the course, it was not clear from the NHS who the means test would be applied to. The institution was as much in the dark as the students, and we are as concerned about it as they are."
Jeremy Mellins, a student on the Leicester-Warwick course, said: "To ask our parents to support us for a further four years is more than unreasonable, it's impossible.
"This course is a response to government directives as a way of getting experienced, committed doctors quickly. If they want us to be here, they need to go the extra mile to fund us."
The British Medical Association is campaigning for the ruling to be changed. A spokesman said: "We were led to believe that parental means-testing was applicable to students up to 21. The fact that it had moved to 25 was a bit of a surprise to us. We are shocked and disappointed."
A Department for Education and Employment spokeswoman said: "Students aged up to 25 are deemed to be financially dependent on their parents unless they are married or have been living away from home for three years."
The bursaries are available only for years two to four of the courses. On this year's figures, the maximum amount available would be £1,900 for a 30-week course plus £65 for each additional week.
- The government's announcement of increases in bursaries for student nurses, midwives and therapists has reignited the debate over whether student nurses should receive bursaries or salaries, writes Claire Sanders .
A government review of the funding for nursing, midwifery and other healthcare students was announced last April. The Royal College of Nursing wants student nurses to remain on bursaries, while trade union Unison wants the restoration of salaries.
This week, health secretary Alan Milburn announced a 10.4 per cent increase on bursaries for student nurses, midwives and therapists - equivalent to £500 for England's 48,000 nursing diploma students and £200 for its 22,000 nursing degree students.
Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said:
"We hope the ongoing bursary review will further modernise the current system of funding to ensure that not a single nursing student has to leave their course because of financial hardship."
Karen Jennings, Unison's head of nursing, said: "The increase is a step in the right direction. However, we condemn the RCN for holding out against the restoration of salaries for nursing students."
The government also announced £5,000 golden hellos to every new GP who joins the NHS.
- The UKCC, the regulatory body for nursing, midwifery and health visiting, has agreed to revise its rules to allow two-year shortened courses for graduates who wish to train as nurses.