The Government has announced plans to fund an additional 205 medical school places in England for students starting in 2024.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it was accelerating a commitment in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, but the British Medical Association described the move as "a drop in the ocean" that would have minimal effect on the "workforce crisis" in the NHS.
Making the announcement at the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester on Tuesday, Steve Barclay, England's Health and Social Care Secretary, said: "I'm delighted to announce today that we are making additional medical school places available at universities for next September. Most of these places will be targeted towards three new medical schools at the universities of Worcester, Chester, and Brunel, with further places for two universities here in the North West – the University of Central Lancashire and Edge Hill."
Additional Places Offered a Year Earlier Than Planned
The DHSC said today's announcement meant that the additional places would be offered a year earlier than the previous commitment set out in the Workforce Plan.
When it was published in June, the Government pledged to double the number of medical school places by 2030-31 from the current 7500 to 15,000. It also promised more medical school places in areas with the greatest shortages, to help level up training and address geographic inequity.
Brunel and Worcester Three Counties medical schools opened in 2021 and 2023, while Chester will open to students in 2024. Ministers have asked the Office for Students to focus on new medical schools approved by the General Medical Council, but which do not currently receive Government funding for places, and those with the smallest existing limits, specifically those with limits of fewer than 50 places.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: "Medicine is a hugely popular course and we’re bringing forward funding for additional medical places in areas of the most need, helping to create a future talent pipeline for the NHS."
BMA Says Announcement Won't Solve Doctor Shortages
Responding to the announcement, Dr Emma Runswick, BMA council deputy chair, said: "With more than 10,800 doctor vacancies in England’s hospitals alone, these additional 205 places a year are a drop in the ocean. The Health Secretary is fooling no one if he thinks this is the answer to the NHS’s medical workforce crisis – while he simultaneously refuses to talk with the doctors we already have.
"We desperately need to attract and recruit more doctors, but most crucially we need to keep the doctors working in the NHS right now, and to do that we need to ensure they’re valued appropriately. You can’t fill a leaky bucket without plugging holes in the bottom.
"Our message is clear, if the Government is serious about fixing doctor shortages, it needs to get around the table and reverse the years of pay cuts they’ve imposed. Our door is open."
Her comments came amid the longest-ever joint strike by junior doctors and consultants in England, which began on Monday and is due to last until 7am on Thursday. During his conference speech, Mr Barclay attacked the "militant BMA leadership whose strikes have resulted in countless cancelled appointments and pose a serious threat to the NHS's recovery from the pandemic".
Responding to Mr Barclay's speech, Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said it was concerning that at a time when consultants, junior doctors, and radiographers were on strike, "the speech did not focus on a strategy to end these disruptive walkouts".
Sir Julian also called for "more investment in the wellbeing and working environments of NHS workers to help to keep and attract much-needed staff".