Headlines: September 26th, 2005

Leading doctors are calling for the extra funding that English medical schools will receive from university top-up fees to be used to widen access to the medical profession. The call from the British Medical Association came as new figures showed the proportion of medical students from state schools was far lower than the national average.The figures show that only just over two thirds of UK entrants to degrees in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science came from state schools in 2003. That is lower than the proportion for any other group of courses, where the average across all subjects is almost 87 per cent.

The need to deal with this imbalance is highlighted in “Medicine in the 21st Century,” a new manifesto for undergraduate medical education from the BMA Medical Students Committee. It says that medical schools are all expected to charge students in England the full 3,000 pounds a year and that they should invest that extra income in improving the quality of teaching and resources and on outreach schemes to encourage applications from students who might not traditionally consider a career in medicine.

Kirsty Lloyd, chair of the Medical Students committee, said the domination of the medical profession by the highest socio-economic groups had to be tackled. “The debt burden on medical students in the UK is going to discourage those from the poorest backgrounds from becoming doctors, and there’s a risk that the good work the government has done to widen access could be undone,” she said.

“Medicine in the 21st Century also calls for National Health Service bursaries to be extended rather than being available only to medical students in their fifth and sixth years. It also wants tuition fee bursary schemes to be available to mature and graduate medical students and says medical schools should audit their selection procedures to ensure there is no discrimination.

The manifesto has been written by Jonathan Beavers, a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, Leigh Bissett who is studying at the University of East Anglia, David Burke from the University of Nottingham, and Emily Rigby of the University of Bristol.