Revised medical school guidelines on screening applicants for the hepatitis B virus continue to discriminate against students compared with health workers, according to medical student leaders.
The British Medical Association's medical students' committee said that although the new guidelines issued by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals have made some limited concessions for applicants who have not reacted positively to vaccination but are not infectious, the CVCP is wrong in ruling that infectious students should be excluded from clinical medical and dental courses.
Sandy Macara, chairman of the BMA council, has now written to the CVCP's medical committee asking for clarification.
"We really don't understand why medical students should be treated differently from other health workers," said Rupert Gauntlett, immediate past president of the medical students' committee.
"The Department of Health guidelines do not suggest that carriers should basically be barred from all hospitals. They need to be excluded from operating theatres for the safety of patients, but we don't believe they should be excluded altogether."
But Frank Harris, secretary of the council of deans of United Kingdom medical schools and faculties, strongly defended the guidelines. Medical students were not comparable to health workers, in that they followed a curriculum leading to a single form of registration, which did not restrict them to certain types of work.
"There is no provision for a lesser form of registration for students who cannot complete the prescribed course," he said. Registered doctors could be treated differently since they could choose which area to work in and were subject to their employers.
"There is an overriding duty of care and need to give primacy to the welfare of patients," he said. "If we are going to err in leaning one way or the other, as far as I'm concerned, we lean in the direction of patients' welfare."
A CVCP spokesman said it would be responding to the BMA in due course.