Job cuts to mean worse doctors

April 26, 1996

Medical schools will have to shed at least 100 academic staff to meet Government cuts, Sir Michael Thompson, chairman of the vice chancellors' medical committee, warned this week.

The shortfall comes as rising student numbers mean that 250 more staff will be needed by the year 2000. Sir Michael will be speaking before a meeting in London today of vice chancellors, medical deans and professors to discuss the crisis facing British medical schools.

Michael Orme, dean of the medical school at Liverpool University, said he may have to lose the equivalent of 25 out of 200 academics as a result of funding cuts.

Sir Michael said that medical schools had absorbed a cut in student funding of 28 per cent over the past six years. But they have been asked to increase student capacity by 2,500 over the next few years because of fears of a severe shortage of doctors in the NHS.

Meanwhile, they are also dealing with the 5 per cent cut in funding for teaching and the 31 per cent cut in funds for equipment and buildings made as a result of last autumn's budget.

"We're being asked to deliver more doctors for even less money and at the same time we are being told by the General Medical Council to change our curriculum, which will involve us in additional costs," said Sir Michael. "That means intolerable burdens being placed on our staff and a possible threat we would fail to deliver doctors of the quality that the NHS requires."

"It looks to me as if there has been a failure of communication between the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Employment about the planned expansion of medical schools."

Liverpool University predicted problems in funding clinical academics, who split their time between hospitals and medical schools. Professor Orme said: "Undoubtedly there will be substantial cuts. We're anticipating savings in excess of Pounds 1 million in a budget of Pounds 8.6 million."

Liverpool is pioneering problem-based learning as its response to the GMC's order for syllabus change. But a building conversion and computer equipment that are essential to the new syllabus have been put on hold.

The Government has recommended that universities look for private funding under the Private Finance Initiative but Professor Orme said they could not afford to pay the interest on private loans.

Today's conference will also hear about the plight of the Institute of Psychiatry, part of London University, which has pioneered a new approach to the contentious area of mental health by setting up the Social, Genetic and Development Psychiatry Research Centre.

The Medical Research Council has spent Pounds 6.6 million on attracting world-class academics and research projects but there is now no money to house the centre. Stuart Checkley, dean of the institute, said the researchers are working in ten buildings scattered around the south London campus.

"I'm very frustrated," he said.

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