Medical bursaries could avert recruitment crisis

May 9, 2003

Academics, medics, MPs and London's mayor attack the white paper's vision

Medical students should get maintenance bursaries if the National Health Service is to avert a time bomb in the recruitment of doctors, the British Medical Association has said.

In its response to the white paper, the BMA says it "wholly opposes tuition fees for higher education". It says medical students should receive bursaries for all years of study, regardless of parental income.

The association expects all medical schools to introduce fees of £3,000, meaning their graduates' debts will rise from a current average of £13,000 to between £20,000 and £35,000.

This would undermine the government's commitment to widening access, said Jennie Ciechan, chairwoman of the BMA's medical students committee.

The Department of Health already finances doctors' fifth year and is reviewing the funding of undergraduate medical education. The BMA says:

"The debt burden faced by medical students will make the arguments in favour of greater NHS support for medical students compelling, perhaps similar to existing mechanisms for nursing staff and social workers."

Nursing and social work students do not pay fees and are eligible for bursaries.

The BMA says: "We are gravely concerned about the recent cuts in Hefce (Higher Education Funding Council for England) funding to departments rated 4 or less. This will have a huge effect on UK medical research and schools. It must be reversed."

The BMA also urges the government to keep clinical academics' pay on a par with that of NHS consultants.

* The DoH should make an announcement that it will continue to pay the fees and bursaries of nursing and other allied health students, says the Council of Deans of Nursing in its white paper response. It should review bursary arrangements for degree and diploma students in nursing and midwifery in England.

* The Council of Heads of Medical Schools has warned that greater research concentration could harm patients. "It would be deleterious to medical education and research, to the quality of the NHS workforce, and to the delivery of patient care, if universities with medical schools were excluded from those institutions with access to significant research funds," it says.

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