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Medical school applications decrease as ‘negative publicity’ takes toll

The total number of UK students applying for places at medical school has fallen for the second year running, dropping by 13.5% on two years ago, latest figures have revealed.

GP academic leaders have said that the decline was ‘too large to be due to chance’, and that some school students are being put off applying because of the ‘negative publicity’ around cuts in NHS funding, increasing workloads and the expectation of seven-day working – as well as changes to GPs’ and consultants’ contracts.

It comes as there continues to be a shortfall in GP training places filled – despite an apparent recent upturn in applications – with half of places remaining vacant in some areas of the country.

Statistics from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show:

  • There were 14,820 applicants by the end of the October deadline in 2015 – 3% fewer than in 2014, and 13.5% fewer than in 2013;
  • This followed a steady increase in the number of UK applicants, from 16,730 in 2011 to 17,140 in 2013;
  • However, since then there was a 11% drop to 15,220 in 2014.

UCAS said the latest decrease was the result of a big fall in students reapplying for medicine – down by 18%, while new applicants were up 2%.

Professor Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care at Imperial College London, said the decline in applications since 2014 could be down to ‘negative publicity’

He added that ‘the negative publicity we have seen about the NHS in the last few years – problems with funding, workload, seven-day working, consultant and GP contracts, etc – has started to discourage some people from applying’.

Dr Alex Harding, senior lecturer at the University of Exeter, said the drop ’reflects what gifted sixth formers are thinking about medicine as a career’.  

Dr Harding added: ’I don’t think we need to look too far behind – or in front of us to see the forces shaping their perceptions.’

However, Dr Harding added the figures may have a ‘silver lining’ if a fall in applicants reduced medical schools’ ’excessive reliance on increasingly extreme exam scores as a way of selecting future physicians’.

Co-chair of the BMA medical students committee Charlie Bell said: ’Students are being asked to take on ever-larger amounts of debt.

’A first-year medical student in England can now expect to accumulate debts in the region of £70,000 by the end of their studies.

’I expect that, these financial considerations, coupled with major changes to the NHS, uncertainly over the future of the health service and the treatment of frontline staff have combined to make medicine a less attractive option for some of our best and brightest schools leavers.’


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