Doctors who choose to juggle an academic career alongside their clinical commitments will no longer lose out financially thanks to an increase in government funding.
After months of negotiation, the Department of Health has agreed to make funding available to bring clinical academic consultants' salaries in line with those of full-time National Health Service consultants. There will be an extra £15 million in 2004-05 and £17.8 million in 2005-06, distributed via the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Medical schools had feared that the government would not agree to the additional money.
David Gordon, dean of the faculty of medicine at Manchester University and chair of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, said: "The fact that parity has been achieved is of paramount importance in ensuring the future health of academic medicine."
Medical schools were also celebrating news that the government had shelved plans to move funding for university medical teaching out of the Department for Education and Skills and into the Department of Health. There were fears that if funding moved to the DH it would be susceptible to the short-term pressures of NHS priorities, and the education budget might be called on to make up shortfalls in funding for patient care.
But the government has not abandoned its plans completely. A joint letter from the two departments, seen by The Times Higher , says that ministers "have agreed that there will be no changes to the funding arrangements for at least three years".
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association has condemned the government's "rush" to reform medical training.
Under the government's "modernising medical careers" agenda, from August 2005 the first two years of junior doctors' training are to be replaced with a foundation programme. But the BMA is concerned that there is little information about the content of the second year of the programme or how skills will be assessed.
At its junior doctors conference last weekend, the BMA pledged support to students who chose to boycott the training programmes due to a lack of information.
Leigh Bissett, the chair of the BMA's student committee, said: "Medical students are being asked to sign contracts for foundation year two, but they know nothing about how or where they will be taught."
He added: "They don't even know if it will count towards their training.
That is ludicrous. You wouldn't go onto a graduate training scheme if you thought you might not be qualified at the end."
But he admitted that few students would feel able to take advantage of the BMA's offer to support a boycott.