Medical students may be unable to find a junior doctor post when they finish their five years of training unless the Government takes urgent action, angry medical school heads have warned.
Long-running tensions between the Department of Health and universities reached a peak this week as medical faculty heads criticised the new national process for recruiting junior doctors and pointed to a gloomy future for many graduates.
UK students are now competing for their first training posts with student doctors from across Europe. Concern has arisen that some European applicants may not have the required clinical standards or English-language skills.
As a result, both UK and overseas students will now be required to pass an additional assessment of clinical competence before they can get a job.
Oliver James, provost of the faculty of medical sciences at Newcastle University, said: "European students are getting access to preregistration jobs for the first time. For that reason, we can no longer guarantee that our graduates will get the first-year posts that are actually the sixth year of their training."
The DH has asked universities to consider accommodating a further 1,000 students in 2008, despite fears that there may not be enough posts for them. One medical faculty head, who asked not to be named, said: "Is it a cock-up or a conspiracy? I'm not sure. They are so muddled in their thinking."
Kirsty Lloyd, chair of the British Medical Association's student committee, said: "It makes no sense. It costs quarter of a million to train each student. And the health service needs doctors."
Sources close to the DH said it planned to spend £8 million on a computer system to process applications for trainee doctor jobs.
Under the new system, students will no longer move automatically to a hospital linked to their medical school for their first job. They will now have to join a UK-wide job-matching scheme, including a test of clinical competence.