Medical education anxieties

March 6, 1998

Medical school heads fear that cost might be put before quality when it comes to deciding how and where to train extra doctors for the United Kingdom.

Medical schools and associated hospitals nationwide are assessing the likely costs of increasing their student intakes as part of an exercise by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Department of Health to price various expansion scenarios. This follows the recommendation earlier this year by the Medical Workforce Standing Advisory Committee that Britain educate an extra 1,000 doctors a year to meet demand.

The government will wait until after the comprehensive spending review before deciding whether to follow the advice, but this week Steve Tomlinson, secretary of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, said there is concern that maintaining quality of educational experience might be overlooked in the bid to keep down costs.

He said: "There is an anxiety among deans that there will be pressure on schools to squeeze the costs so as to win more students."

He added there was concern that all medical schools - some of which already have very limited teaching accommodation - might feel pressured into taking more students so as not to lose government funding.

A letter from HEFCE to medical schools makes it clear that capital funds will not automatically be available for the expansion. It says: "Although we do not expect to provide capital funds for the expansion, the government has not ruled this out."

But Professor Tomlinson said capital funds were critical. "We need additional seminar rooms and accommodation if we are to take more students," he said. "The worry is that somehow the National Health Service or universities will be expected to find the capital themselves. Universities are finding it difficult to locate any funds, let alone capital funds."

A spokesman for HEFCE said it was aware of the need to maintain quality.

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