Milburn warned of threat to growth

December 6, 2002

The health secretary's refusal to renegotiate the consultants' contract could exacerbate the shortage of medical academics and undermine the expansion of medical education, the British Medical Association has warned.

In a meeting with the BMA last week, health secretary Alan Milburn said that he would not re-negotiate the contract, which offered consultants more pay in return for a greater commitment to the National Health Service. He indicated that he might allow individual trusts to offer the rejected contract piecemeal.

Colin Smith, chair of the medical academics staff committee of the BMA, said: "Academic consultants in Scotland and Northern Ireland accepted the contract, but not in England. In Wales they were split down the middle and are still negotiating a response.

"Different contracts will make it difficult for medical academics to move from different parts of the country."

Government plans to expand medical student numbers are already under threat due to the shortage of medical academics. One in five professorial posts is empty. The Council of Heads of Medical Schools has estimated that 1,000 more medical academics are needed to teach the extra students.

Dr Smith said: "Medical academics are subject to short-term contracts and have traditionally moved around the country. If a medical academic on a consultant's contract in Scotland moves down to England, will he or she take a major pay cut? Who will pay the difference?"

Medics fear that they could lose a significant percentage of their funding for student placementsin hospitals as a result of government proposals to merge different funding streams and extend placement funding to nurses and other healthcare professionals.

In its response to the government consultation document, Funding Learning and Development for the Healthcare Workforce , the Council of Heads of Medical Schools said: "The merging of all the health professional education funding streams into one raises concerns for medical education.

"In particular, Sift (the funding stream for medical placements) is likely to be reduced in value as a consequence of the rebasing exercise."

The response from the Council of Deans of Nursing said: "Changes will clearly need not to destabilise the provision of services at NHS trusts that have significant Sift allocations, but the allocations of learning and development funding must be related to student placement activity."


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