NHS University takes over doctors' postgrad studies

June 20, 2003

The National Health Service University is set to take over postgraduate deaneries, the bodies responsible for all postgraduate education for doctors, in a significant expansion of its empire.

Peter Hill, chair of the UK Conference of Postgraduate Medical Deaneries, said: "We would support a move to the NHSU and are working closely with the Department of Health to take this forward."

Deaneries have business planning agreements with Workforce Development Confederations, the bodies responsible for commissioning nursing and allied health profession courses from universities. "The WDCs are moving into strategic health authorities. In the light of these changes, a move to the NHSU makes sense," Professor Hill said.

The future development of the NHSU and postgraduate education are just two of the key issues to be tackled by the new health secretary, John Reid.

Another is the future funding of undergraduate medical education. An options paper is being drawn up by the Department of Health, and medical schools are fighting to stop their funding from being transferred from the Department for Education and Skills to the DoH.

Last week, a meeting of the Strategic Learning and Research Group, chaired by the two permanent secretaries from both departments and including representatives from Universities UK, heard concerns that medical schools are not responsive enough to government needs.

Michael Powell, executive secretary of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, said: "If medical schools are not responsive, then we need to be told how they are not responsive. We are very opposed to a move to the DoH as we fear that long-term educational requirements would be lost to short-term health pressures."

The options paper, originally expected this summer, is understood to be delayed until the autumn.

Mr Powell said: "Key for Dr Reid is the recruitment and retention of clinical academics. Negotiations on foundation hospitals, the consultant's contract and the GP's contract all threaten to undermine pay parity agreements."

Dr Reid also has on his desk a report from JM Consulting that will pave the way for long-term contracts and benchmark prices between universities and their commissioning WDCs for nursing and other health courses. A proposal to link funding to output, in an attempt to cut dropout rates, is understood to be up for discussion.

A spokesperson for the Council of Deans of Nursing said: "Universities are working with their NHS partners to increase numbers in nursing and allied health professions and to maximise student-success rates. They are unlikely to accept output-based contracts that potentially penalise just one side of the partnership."

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