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Significant rise in students starting medical school seen for first time in years

The number of students taking up a place at UK medical schools has increased by 9% this year, bucking a decade-long trend of numbers either falling or seeing very small growth.

The latest official figures from UCAS, published yesterday, show rises across England, Wales and Scotland, but a decline in Northern Ireland of students beginning undergraduate medical training.

It comes after governments around the UK announced an expansion to medical school places to address doctor shortages, with funding prioritised to schools with a general practice focus.

In England, 500 extra places were due to be made available for this autumn, with a further 1,000 places expected by 2020.

The latest figures show that from this autumn, 9,950 students are due to start a medicine or dentistry course in the UK, compared with 9,100 in 2017 – though the figures could still increase as more students confirm their place at medical school through clearing over the coming weeks.

It is by far the highest number of medical students seen in a decade.

Wales has seen the largest annual increase this year, compared with other UK countries. The number of students from the country accepting a place at medical school shot up by 24% - from 330 in 2017, to 410 this year. This represents the first rise since 2012.

In England there has been a 10% jump in the number of applicants placed on a medicine course - from 6,520 in 2017 to 7,170 this year – which comes after nine years of declining numbers or no change.

Scotland has seen a 1% rise, from 750 in 2017 to 760 new medical students signing up this year.

But in Northern Ireland - a region where problems with GP recruitment and retention have been particularly acute - numbers have dropped by 9%, from 460 to 420, according to the latest UCAS figures which are 28 days after clearing started.

RCGP Wales welcomed the country’s sharp increase in undergraduate medical students, but called for more focus to encourage them to work in primary and community settings.

‘It’s important that students are encouraged into primary and community-based settings in order to meet future patient demand,’ said Dr Peter Saul, RCGP Wales joint chair.

In the past year there have been growing efforts to introduce additional medical school places in a bid to address the shortfall of GPs, including five new medical schools being launched in England.

In Scotland, the Government has announced 85 extra medical school places, with courses to be 'focused on general practice', starting from next year.

Earlier this summer, it was also revealed that universities in North Wales would bring in 40 extra medical school places from 2019.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey reiterated his support for the expansion of medical school places, but warned it would not be an immediate fix to the workforce shortfall.

‘It will clearly take time to train these new students, but we do need to be training more students to create the workforce we need not just in the future but now,’ he said.

Readers' comments (17)

  • That mean the reinforcements coming will be 8-10 years down the line not good, not enough, wont be in time to stop the invetible.

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  • What Now?

    In Scotland, the Government has announced 85 extra medical school places, with courses to be 'focused on general practice', starting from next year.

    With a decline in people choosing medicine
    the grade entry requirement may have been lowered allowing accessibility to some

    What is the point of churning out more gp's
    1. if there is no funding for practices to take on more partners
    2. Unlike dentists qualified GP'S cannot simply start up and run their own businesses

    Sort out the above and
    the ship will not sink

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  • What Now?

    The grade entry reduction / Clearing entrances
    may not necessarily be a bad thing

    Sometimes those with drive and ambition
    may have not made the grade in the past

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  • just because they go to medical school doesn't mean they will be practicing in the UK 5 yrs post graduation. So in a decade that has seen the number of elderly increas, the number of chronic illness increase and an obesity epidemic we have effectively bee training less Drs to deal with it.One would suggest suggest the horse is already half way to Australia and these poor lambs will be left shovelling rose fertiliser.

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  • We’ll step in right direction.

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  • having helped train some of these medical students over the past few years the responses are generally as follows - GP is too much hard work, i'd rather stay in hospital medicine, i may train as a GP then go work abroad where the pay and conditions are better , i may train as a GP but only part time as full time is too much and i want to do other things as well, like see my family etc. Good luck with the recruitment and retention guys cause it aint happening at the moment

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  • You are right, bewildered. Currently, we are losing more than HALF of medical graduates every year overseas. What I foresee the state will try to do, which will worsen the problem all over again, is indentured service. Instead of solving the actual problem of course

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  • I’m afraid only market forces will help.
    There is a need to pay doctors more for the next 10 years
    By all means train more doctors but this will take a decade at which point doctors pay could be frozen
    Sheer lunacy to be paying GP s less now than 10 years ago when there is an acute shortage

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  • How many will go part time, how many abroad, it all depends on the pay and conditions when they graduate. After that, I wonder how many will be charged with Gross Negligence Manslaughter before the staffing numbers rise.

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  • Honestly chaps - don't do it. It is a fantastic job utterly ruined by politicians and the Daily Wail.

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