Medical schools have welcomed National Health Service funding arrangements for medical and dental students despite uncertainty over finance for expansion.
Health minister Gerald Malone has confirmed that the Government will next year implement funding changes proposed by an advisory body on the Service Increment for Teaching (SIFT). This will allow medical students more training in general practice to balance training in hospitals.
"This is not to say one type of training is better than any other," Mr Malone said.
"But with increases in day surgery and with more non-invasive techniques being used to treat a wider range of conditions, we need to ensure that the structure for training reflects the needs of the service and patients," he added.
There has been no consistency until now among health authorities and boards over how far SIFT funds follow hospitals' teaching responsibilities. But from April the new SIFT system will split funds between clinical placements and teaching facilities, with universities advising on placements, including training with GPs, while NHS regional offices will take the lead in developing teaching support plans.
Sir Michael Bond, chairman of the joint medical advisory committee to the higher education funding councils, said: "I am sure the universities will welcome the level of control they have been given for placement costs and the fact that they will be signatories to arrangements for facilities costs."
Michael Orme, dean of Liverpool University's medical faculty, said that medical schools were still awaiting details of the changes.
There would be widespread approval for the new freedom to use SIFT for placements in the community, and a number of schools would be launching courses with community placements next session.
But Professor Orme warned that while it would be reasonable to shift funds from hospitals to the community, there would be an overlap of several years with increased costs in the community before hospital costs could be reduced.
Talks are taking place between the universities and the Department of Health on the details of SIFT.