More than one in seven clinical chairs is empty, the Council of Heads of Medical Schools' first comprehensive survey of medical school vacancies has shown.
Michael Powell, executive secretary of the council, said: "We know that 73 out of 1,042 clinical chairs are empty, but suspect the real figure is at least double this. Once a chair has become vacant, it often disappears from the list of posts while the university reassesses its financial position. It does not become a formal vacancy until it is re-advertised."
Mr Powell said many universities were not advertising because the applicant pool was tiny and the chances of success remote.
The survey, which will be published in full shortly, also found that 118 reader and senior lecturer posts and 136 lecturer posts were empty.
In a debate in the House of Lords on medical teaching and research last week, Lord Walton of Detchant welcomed a rise in medical students but asked who would teach them. He said academic clinicians were spending up to 58 hours a week in clinical service. "Where is the time for teaching and research?" he asked. He said the UK's reputation in biomedical and clinical research "is now in serious decline".
Replying for the government, health minister Lord Hunt said that of the 73 vacant professorial posts, 45 were being filled during the survey. He said that the government and research charities were funding a clinical scientist scheme to overcome disincentives to an academic career and that 250 such posts were planned.
Lord Hunt said 9,018 people had applied to medical schools for 2002 as of October 15. This is an 18 per cent increase over the same time last year and the first rise in applicants in a number of years.