Headlines: December 16th, 2009

Government efforts to encourage students from low-income families into medicine are not working according to a report today from the BMA. It has taken a wide-ranging look at the profile of the country’s 40,000 medical students and analysed the latest figures on successful applications to medical schools.

The report, ‘Equality and diversity in UK medical schools’, finds that only around one in seven successful applicants are from the lowest economic groups even though they account for almost half of the population. It also reveals that in the last five years there has been an increase of just 1.7 per cent students coming from low income backgrounds in spite of more than 390 million pounds being spent on widening access schemes across higher education system since 2001.

Of the students accepted into medical schools last year, 56 per cent were women and the report says women already form a large majority of staff in certain specialities such as palliative care where 80 per cent of specialty doctors are women. By contrast, only one in twelve consultant general surgeons in England is a woman and around one in ten medical school professors are female.

Professor Bhupinder Sandhu, Chair of the BMA’s Equal Opportunity Committee said there were some encouraging findings in the report with medical schools being particularly good at attracting students from some ethnic minorities but there were areas of serious concern. “Medical schools are still not recruiting enough students from low income backgrounds. There is evidence of a drastic gap in acceptance rates. Fifty eight per cent of applicants from the top socio-economic group obtained a place at medical school, but only 39 per cent of applicants from the lowest group were successful, a gap of 19 per cent, “ Professor Sandhu said.