Universities braced for Blair health plan

July 28, 2000

University medical schools face a second wave of expansion with up to 1,000 more student doctors, it was announced this week.

Tony Blair was due to make a statement on the National Plan for the National Health Service yesterday. The expansion comes on top of the extra 1,100 places announced in June. The 2000-01 target intake is 5,475 undergraduates.

The National Plan is billed as the last chance to save the NHS, with staff shortages identified as the main limitation on government ambitions. It proposes radical changes in the way doctors, nurses and health professionals are educated and regulated.

The Department of Health and the Higher Education Funding Council for England have already written to medical schools asking for "broad-brush assessments" of their growth potential either through straight expansion, joint ventures between existing and new medical schools or by setting up new medical schools.

Institutions have been asked to respond by today. This week Manchester University said it was putting in a bid for 250 extra student places. Hull University and the universities of Bristol, Durham and Newcastle, which have just started a collaborative arrangement, said they were responding positively. Leicester and Warwick universities, which have set up a medical school, were seriously considering the matter.

A number of universities said they would be bidding to raise their student numbers in collaboration with the Open University, which is bidding in September to teach the first two years of medical degrees.

The DoH and Hefce letter says that in allocating extra places consideration will be given to bids that include cooperation agreements, shorter courses and "approaches that will assist in breaking barriers between different professional groups".

The Joint Implementation Group of the DoH and Hefce has only finished allocating the original tranche of 1,100 new medical places, with the announcement of two new medical schools in June. At the time, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Council of Heads of Medical Schools welcomed the announcement, but stressed that further expansion required more funding.

Sir George Alberti, president of the Royal College of Physicians and a member of the action team on professions set up to feed ideas into the plan, said: "I do hope that the government has not forgotten about medical academics. If we are going to have more students, we'll need more teachers."

The national plan is also expected to call for changes in education and training, with a stress on multiprofessional education as outlined in its workforce planning review - A Health Service of all the Talents.

Dame Jill Macleod-Clark, professor of nursing at Southampton's faculty of medicine and health, and member of the action team, said: "Discussions on multi-professional education have moved from introducing modules where nurses and doctors learn together to a fresh look at what kind of professionals we need."

The plan may also bring in either a single regulatory body for doctors, nurses and other health professionals or a coordinating committee. The three regulatory bodies for these groups have all been undergoing major reform.

Peter Burley, registrar of the Council for Professions Supplementary to Medicine, said that a single body would require the repeal of sections of the 1999 Health Act, a lengthy process.

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