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Medical students would consider working in under-doctored areas in return for loans being cleared

Close to 80% of medical students would be willing to work in under-doctored areas in exchange for their student loans being paid off, a BMA survey has shown.

The UK-wide survey, which was spurred by a suggestion floated by the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru last month, showed that only 16% of medical students would turn down such an offer, while 6% were not sure about it.

However medical students were less keen on the idea of choosing a particular medical specialty in exchange for getting out of the red. Only 28% said they would do that, while 64% said that pursuit of a specialism should not be driven by financial incentives.

In a white paper, Plaid Cymru had suggested that the Welsh Government ‘pay off student debt for doctors in return for them spending a portion of their training and early employment in an under-served area.’

It is standing on an election promise to recruit an extra 1,000 medical students over two terms, in a bid to solve a pressing Welsh medical recruitment crisis which has placed the country third last among European countries based on the number of doctors serving its population.

However while the BMA’s survey showed that medical students would consider accepting the offer of having their debts paid, almost half of all respondents (40%) did not think this was the ‘most pressing’ use of training resources.

But Welsh assembly member Elin Jones, Plaid Cymru’s shadow health minister, said: ‘This is about taking a long-term approach to fixing the NHS’s recruitment problems in Wales. For decades Governments at both ends of the M4 have treated problems in our NHS with a sticking plaster.’

James North, a second-year student at UCL, said he would train in an under-doctored area to clear his debts but argued that the scheme shouldn’t be exclusive to Wales.

He said: ‘I believe this would create an unfair advantage in the jobs market for the Welsh hospitals. If the scheme were to be applied, I think it should be rolled out across the whole of the UK rather than just to Wales.’

Liverpool University third-year student Samantha Dolan added: ‘It is important that a medical graduate is driven through postgraduate training by their interest in a particular specialty and their own initiative to learn.

‘Otherwise, we may risk creating a sub-culture of medical trainees driven purely by financial incentive.’

The news comes as Pulse revealed that applications for postgraduate GP specialty training have dropped by 15% across the UK this year, putting Government targets to boost GP numbers at risk,