Medics face untimely jobs axe

May 3, 2002

London medical schools are set to axe jobs despite government plans for the biggest single expansion in student doctor numbers in a generation.

Guy's, King's and St Thomas's medical school, one of the largest in the UK, is to lose about 50 clinical academic posts as part of an exercise to save £3.5 million a year. Up to 100 jobs may go at the school of medicine and dentistry at Queen Mary, University of London, part of Barts and the London hospital.

Graeme Catto, dean of the Guy's, King's and St Thomas's medical school and president of the General Medical Council, said that the college started a strategic planning process two years ago that had been the subject of consultation with staff and unions. He said it was recognised when the merged medical school was formed in 1998 that there would be a review of academic activity and a rationalisation of some departments. He said: "We anticipate that any reduction in staffing will be achieved through early and voluntary retirement."

The process started long before the funding consequences of the last research assessment exercise were known, but he said that RAE decisions had not "been helpful".

The failure to fully fund the RAE is also being blamed for cuts at Queen Mary. The school was already running an annual deficit of £2 million but the RAE funding change will take it to £4.6 million.

Last week, the college council voted to establish a redundancy committee. Unions fear that between 80 and 120 jobs are at risk. The college says staff can be "rebadged" to work for the National Health Service.

Medicine was hit hard by RAE decisions. The Higher Education Funding Council for England cut the weighting for high-cost laboratory and clinical subjects from 1.7 to 1.6. The high performance of many institutions in clinical laboratory science, for example, saw funding fall by 20 per cent for 5*-rated departments.

Colin Smith, chairman of the BMA's medical academic staff committee, said:

"While we welcome the government's pledge to have an extra 15,000 doctors, we fear these plans could be jeopardised if there are not the academic staff to teach the new recruits."

The number of medical students is set to expand by 56 per cent between 1998 and 2003. The BMA estimates that to meet demand, the number of academics should rise by at least the same amount. There is currently a shortage of clinical academics.

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