Headlines: February 21st, 2003

Junior doctors are warning that draft proposals from the Department of Health will mean the abandonment of the gold standard of UK consultant training and might risk future consultants’ ability to deliver comprehensive patient care.The Junior Doctors’ Committee of the British Medical Association has learned that plans are being developed to cut by almost half the time it takes to train as a consultant. This would mean doctors reaching consultant status at an average age of 27 instead of 37. At the moment a consultant typically has between nine and 12 years postgraduate experience but this would fall to between five and seven under plans to be unveiled later this month. The committee believes that this, when combined with the reductions in junior doctors’ hours under the European Working Time Directive, will mean a newly-appointed consultant would have just 13,000 hours experience instead of the current average of 25,000 hours.

Paul Thorpe, an orthopaedic surgeon and chairman of the Junior Doctors Committee, says although it wants to see training conducted more efficiently and within appropriate time scales, the proposals are a threat to the quality of patient care. “In an effort to meet its unachievable targets for producing more consultants, the Department of Health is throwing the baby out with the bath water,” he said.

“There are genuine reforms to be made to junior doctors training, by unblocking some of the bottlenecks and improving the training programmes. But the models now being worked up by the Department of Health would push consultants out into the NHS who frankly would not have the capacity to provide a comprehensive service. They would not be able to maintain the very high standards of consultant practice that we currently provide, and that patients deserve,” he added.

The Junior Doctors’ Committee has developed its own training model that it believes would deliver high quality medical training. It combines a balance of education and service to produce a mix of general and super specialist consultants.