Medicine is set to be included for the first time in an overarching statement on minimum standards in health-degree courses as part of a new quality regime announced this month for health subjects.
The Department of Health, in partnership with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the Health Professions Council and the National Health Service Workforce Development Confederation, has signed two major contracts with the Quality Assurance Agency for benchmarking and reviews.
The QAA has already produced benchmark statements - setting out national minimum degree standards - for 11 healthcare professions.
These have been produced to a standard format and within an emerging shared health professions framework, where elements common to all the professions, such as communications and ethics, are set out.
The agency has now been asked to produce more benchmark statements and to extend the overarching framework to other subjects, including medicine.
In response to the announcement, a spokesperson for the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, said: "When the original framework was drawn up, it was felt that it would be going too far to include medicine. However, it is now felt appropriate to do so."
Medicine would keep its own separate benchmark statement as well.
The NHS Plan, which was published three years ago, called for more multiprofessional learning. The proposal for an overarching framework is a step in this direction.
The second contract is for major reviews of NHS-funded healthcare higher education, which are to be carried out in 2003-06.
Under the contract, the QAA will examine all NHS-funded higher education programmes in England. It is estimated that there will be 150 reviews of nursing, midwifery and allied health professions programmes, with about 50 reviews to be conducted in each academic year.
Last year, the agency conducted six prototype reviews of programmes of nursing, midwifery, health visiting and allied health professions in six higher education institutions/workforce development confederations in England. There is concern, however, that these reviews do not benefit from the lighter touch brought in under the QAA's new quality regime.
Paul Turner, executive officer of the Council of Deans of Nursing, said:
"QAA involvement is vital to ensure that these reviews are linked to the developing quality-assurance agenda in higher education as a whole.
"The council of deans continues to argue for a single streamlined process, with a lighter intensity where appropriate," he added.