Medicine takes fast track

October 24, 1997

A REVOLUTION in British medical education could be just around the corner as plans to introduce three and four-year accelerated medical degrees go ahead.

The Medical Workforce Standing Advisory committee is expected next month to recommend training an extra 1,000 doctors a year. Thus, at least two London medical schools are investigating new, short medical degrees that can be taken by graduates.

The United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy's and St Thomas's hospitals and St George's Medical School hope the new degrees could begin as early as 1999. Informal discussions have already taken place, as well as visits overseas to see how existing courses are run.

The new degrees would be open to graduates only, but it is unlikely that any previous bio-medical education would be needed. At the moment, graduates taking a second degree in medicine must train, like those doing their first degree, for five or six years. They are liable for tuition fees as well as for maintenance costs.

Cyril Chandler, principal of UMDS, said: "If the country needs more medical students, it is going to have problems getting this purely from the undergraduate ranks. There are a lot of people who decide they want to be doctors later in life. As Tessa Blackstone (minister for higher education) points out, mature students are so much more keen. We are therefore considering running our conventional courses alongside separate ones for post graduates."

He said discussions were going ahead about the length of the course, and whether or not it should be three or four years for non-biomedical graduates.

A working group at St George's has met counterparts from Canada, Holland and Australia to devise a programme. Discussions at an informal level with the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of Health have included funding issues, as well as debate about the nature of the course and appropriate methods for student selection.

St George's principal, Robert Boyd, said that money had been put aside to develop the idea, with the school keen to approach the General Medical Council formally this academic year. He said he hoped the course would start in May 1999. He stressed that graduate entry should not replace the present system. "It would be madness to get rid of school-leaving entry on a cost saving basis," he said. "It serves us very well, but I want to see a mixed portfolio."

With Sir Colin Campbell, chairman of the medical workforce standing advisory committee, expected to report soon, other universities are considering how they, too, might benefit from increased provision of medical education.

At Bristol, medics are keen to increase their undergraduate admissions, while a number of traditional universities, which at the moment do not have undergraduate medical schools, are investigating the provision. These are thought to include Warwick University.

Deepest cut for medicine,page 19, Funding cuts, page 64

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