Pandemic fears over training gap

July 25, 2003

Medical students are receiving "patchy" training on infection, despite a growing risk of a new pandemic, the Lords science and technology committee said last week.

At the release of a report on fighting infection last Friday, the committee said "sooner or later" there would be another pandemic, possibly on a par with the so-called "Spanish flu" that killed more than 70 million people in 1918. But it warned that the National Health Service was unlikely to be able to cope.

The peers called on the General Medical Council and other medical bodies to ensure that universities strengthen undergraduate training on clinical and public health aspects of infection.

The chair of the committee, Lord Soulsby, said: "We're aware some educators believe infection is no longer terribly important and we believe that is a misconception. Education in this area should be part of the undergraduate curriculum and postgraduate training."

The report acknowledged that all medical students do study infection in the course of their training, but warned that on some undergraduate courses clinical infection and public-health training is patchy and isolated from other key elements of the training.

Committee member Leslie Turnberg, former chair of the Public Health Laboratory service, said: "The undergraduate curriculum is already overloaded. One way might be for infection to permeate the whole of the course."

The committee was also concerned about the lack of microbiologists and specialists in infectious disease, which means that student training often rests with people who are not experts in the field. There are about 70 infectious disease consultants working in the NHS, which the committee said fell far short of the number needed.

The report criticised "very poor" nursing training on basic microbiology and immunology, and "insufficient" postgraduate education on infection for GPs.

But the Council of the Heads of Medical Schools insisted that while public health has not been well represented in academic medicine in the past, infection is now a priority for all its members.

Michael Powell, executive secretary of the CHMS said: "There may well be a case for developing the provision for infection training, but it is something that is taken seriously within the context of a very pressurised curriculum."

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