Contract fears for medics

December 19, 2003

Medical schools' obsession with research could undermine a new contract for clinical academics, the British Medical Association warned this week.

Medical academics have until January 9 to vote on a new contract that will, for the first time, seek to integrate fully their work as teachers, researchers and doctors. The contract offers increased pay with recognition of time spent on research and teaching.

But Michael Rees of the BMA's Medical Staff and Academic Committee warned:

"Universities are chasing research assessment exercise money, and many are considering keeping on their research-intensive staff while allowing the rest to drift to the National Health Service. But this contract relies specifically on jointly negotiated roles with academics providing care and teaching as well as research."

Many medical schools lost out heavily when the 2001 RAE was not funded in full.

Professor Rees pointed out that the increase in medical academic salaries outlined in the contract will be paid for by the Department of Health via the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Medical academic salaries are currently linked to NHS salaries.

He said: "If the DoH feels it is not getting value for money out of these contracts, the whole issue of pay parity for clinical academics could be in jeopardy."

Professor Rees said that the contract was the best way forward for medical academics as well as students and patients.

He said: "Medical academic workload is increasing at an unsustainable pace - the number of medical students is growing rapidly, but the number of staff to teach them is actually falling."

Professor Rees also said that the issue of whether to fund medical schools directly from the DoH could also be reignited. Over recent months ministers have discussed a transfer of funding. The issue has been dropped for now.

David Gordon, chair of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools and dean of the faculty of medicine, dentistry, nursing and pharmacy at Manchester University, said: "Fears of medical schools ignoring their teaching side and focusing on research are overplayed."

But he said that a survey of medical academics by the CHMS due to published next year was expected to show a reduction in the number of medical academics. "We are still finalising the figures, but from what we have seen so far we are concerned," he said.

The contract is specifically for the 5,000 clinical academics in England.

Its key points are:

  • Flexible, joint job planning to allow more power to cope with workload
  • Average pay rises of 15 per cent in total career earnings
  • Time spent teaching or carrying out research to be contracted and paid for
  • More explicit recognition of research and education.

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