Labour set to back plan to double UK medical school places

Shadow health secretary backing a Policy Exchange blueprint for growing doctor numbers, including the creation of up to 15 new medical schools

December 16, 2022

Plans to train an additional 17,000 doctors by 2035, by doubling medical school places in the UK, were set to be backed by Labour today.

The bold policy, which will increase medical school places to 15,000 a year by 2029, was expected to be endorsed by shadow health secretary Wes Streeting at a Policy Exchange event in London on 16 December.

Speaking at the launch of a report by the centre-right thinktank – co-authored by Iain Mansfield, formerly an adviser to three Tory education ministers, along with Sean Phillips, Policy Exchange’s head of health and social care – Mr Streeting was expected to support the roadmap that promises to create an additional 45,000 doctors by 2040 at a cost of about £1.2 billion over the five years to 2029.

The proposals will include the opening of 12 to 15 new medical schools, the expansion of existing medical training centres and the delivery of more clinical placements.

The UK is currently heavily dependent on international medical graduates who make up half of doctors joining the medical register, according to the Medical Schools Council.

However, the high cost of training doctors – at about £250,000 per medical student – and limits of training capacity within hospitals have limited the expansion of many existing state-funded medical schools, despite the creation of new ones at UK universities where medical training has largely centred on nurses and other health professionals, part of a 2018 plan to grow medical school places by 1,500, or 25 per cent, over three years.

The intervention follows reports that the NHS is spending about £3 billion on locum doctors annually – with some costing the health service as much as £5,200 a shift. The government has claimed that some 4,000 extra doctors and 9,000 nurses have been hired since September 2021.

According to the Policy Exchange plans, the proposed investment to fund extra doctors will pay for itself, both in terms of increased student loan repayments and income tax returns.

Katie Petty-Saphon, chief executive of the Medical Schools Council, said the expansion of medical school places would “be essential to supporting the future needs of the NHS”.

Calling the report “timely”, she added that it “recognises the critical role that existing schools – as well as new schools – will play, balancing this with due consideration for the additional clinical placements, educators and researchers who will be required”.

“It marks an important and credible contribution to the debate and deserves a wide readership in the healthcare and higher education sectors, as well as across government – we hope its recommendations are taken forward,” she said.

Alistair Fitt, chair of Universities UK’s health policy network and vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, also praised its recommendations.

“We know that the NHS needs more doctors and that UK universities provide a world-class medical education. If you want to double the number of medical school places, this report provides a clear plan on how to do it,” said Professor Fitt.

“Given it would cost less than 1 per cent of the total NHS budget, why wouldn’t you want to do it?”

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Reader's comments (2)

Good, we need more doctors. Just don't let intellectual standards drop. Weneed the brightest people in our medical schools, not social quotas which damage overall standards.
I can only echo Nigel's sentiments above. Unfortunately, I have say that for some years now, the distribution of necessary intelligence coupled with a keen motivation in many students we see at University has drifted downwards. The use of A level grades provides a poor correlate and predictor of future academic and clinical performance. So many students arrive with the three A stars that they have not served medical schools any useful discriminatory purpose. Recent experience would support the view that many students have simply been 'taught to the test'. In my own experience, when first year medical students are asked to provide a general account of core topics like ATP synthesis or the DNA to Protein story, they often can only give a somewhat sketchy account of the salient features. They only sat the exam a few months earlier. This is not to say that we don't see really clever and motivated students; the best are as good as they ever have been in the past. However, the proportion of students capable of grasping and making sense of a large amount of material over a limited time is lower than it needs to be to serve actual real clinical demand. The best that we can do is really return to higher educational standards in the School system and to develop the requisite skills that professions really require. Currently, we as a culture still seem to be in thrall to getting students to aim to live their best life and to be the best that they can be. This well meaning tripe really doesn't help students to meet the often prosaic, but essential demands of the real world outside of the experience of the extended creche.