V-cs attack NHS revamp

June 23, 2000

Vice-chancellors have warned that proposals to change the way the National Health Service trains its staff and plans staffing could undermine the expansion in medical education announced last week.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said that the proposals from the Department of Health, issued in April, push an "ill-defined" multi-professional approach to teaching, are dismissive of research and contain plans to combine funding streams that could backfire.

In the consultation document, A Health Service of All Talents: Developing the NHS Workforce, the DoH says it wants to look at the workforce in a new way, "as teams of people rather than as different tribes".

In its response submitted to the DoH this week, the CVCP said the proposals "lack a clear definition of multi-professional education and how it will meet NHS needs". Multi-professional approaches, such as educating doctors and nurses alongside each other, have been pioneered in a few universities, but there is no clear evidence of how successful these are. Nor have they been properly costed.

The CVCP is also concerned that the consultation paper makes only a passing reference to research as a distraction from teaching. It argues that if the NHS is to promote evidence-based practice, it needs to promote research.

The consultation document acknowledges there are long-term problems in recruiting clinical academic staff. It says: "With increasing numbers of medical students and other demands it is important that this is not neglected."

In a statement put out last week in response to the announcement of two new medical schools and extra places at King's College, London, the CVCP and the Council of Heads of Medical Schools called for more funding.

Chris Edwards, chair of the CHMS, said: "Young doctors need better incentives to take up careers in academic medicine."

The consultation document also proposes merging different funding streams, in particular the Service Increment for Teaching (SIFT), which funds the cost of clinical placements to the NHS for dentists and doctors; the Medical and Dental Education Levy, which funds the basic salary costs of pre-registration house officers; and the Non-Medical Education and Training Levy, which funds undergraduate training places and post-registration training and education for other clinical staff - such as nurses.

The CVCP argues: "Recent changes in the management of the SIFT budget have led to significant improvements in accountability and in the quality of some education within the NHS. The danger of a larger squeeze on a larger levy needs to be avoided."

Finally, the CVCP argues that higher education is not sufficiently represented on new coordinating bodies planned by the government, in particular the National Workforce Development Board.

Janet Finch, vice-chancellor of Keele University and CVCP spokesperson on health professions, said: "The principles outlined in the partnership agreement signed by the CVCP and the NHS Executive last year for closer cooperation in the education and training of health professionals remain core, but they are not fully reflected in this consultation document."

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