Call to revive in vivo training

December 14, 2007

Medical schools should be granted a special licence to carry out experiments on animals as part of a series of measures to improve the teaching of basic science to their students, the Biosciences Federation said this week, writes Melanie Newman.

But the schools themselves said that this was not needed.

The BSF argued that in vivo skills should be resurrected in medical schools so students could better understand the effect of drugs they will eventually prescribe to patients.

Richard Dyer, chief executive of the BSF, said: "We are working with the Home Office to establish a general licence for a dozen core practicals that would minimise the form-filling often cited as an excuse for not performing these important practical demonstrations."

He added: "It seems to me that when you prescribe a drug you ought to have a good idea about what it is doing to the organs. I'm not sure that's always the case, which could have quite serious implications," he said.

The BSF, in its response to the Government's review of science in the Department of Health, said that the time available for basic science should "be used more effectively". The federation wants a high-level working group to be set up to consider the contents of a core science curriculum for medical students.

The Medical Schools Council does not support the BSF's proposals. A spokesman said: "Medical schools are confident that graduates generally have an appropriate balance of basic science and clinical training, not least because there have been no obvious problems highlighted by the General Medical Council."

A spokesman said that practical classes as a routine are expensive "and by promoting in vivo work the federation is not being consistent with agreed policy on animal experimentation - that is to substitute where possible".

Nonetheless, the balance between basic and applied elements of medicine was under review. "The Medical Schools Council suggests that it would be more appropriate for the Biosciences Federation to feed into this review rather than initiate another high-level working group," the spokesman said.

* Academics and regulators have criticised proposals for a new quality assurance regime for the training of health professionals in English universities.

Skills for Health, the skills council for the health sector, is consulting on a new approach that will reduce the burden on universities.

A consultation document, Enhancing Quality in Partnership , says universities will have to evaluate themselves for risk at both organisational and classroom levels and produce annual reports.

It maintains that with 75 higher education institutions providing 2,000 healthcare education programmes, greater standardisation is necessary.

But the Council of Deans of Health and the Health Professions Council believes the scheme is unnecessary and will increase the bureaucratic burden on institutions.

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