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No ‘big bang’ change will follow medical school places review

How many doctors will we need in the future? And how many medical students will we need each year to produce that number of doctors? Those are questions which the Department of Health has to consider from time to time and the satisfactory delivery of NHS services depends on getting the answers right. We are now looking again at the question of student numbers.

The last review of this nature was in 2006 and at that time Ministers concluded that the numbers being trained were about right. The Department of Health (DH) work with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to conduct these reviews and this time have invited Health and Education National Strategic Exchange (HENSE) to undertake the work on their behalf with the following remit:

To ensure an adequate and affordable supply of good quality trained doctors and dentists, to improve health outcomes and ensure high quality patient care and the sustainability of the healthcare and research sectors, to advise on future:

  • total intakes to undergraduate medical and dental training in England;
  • and within that total, the respective limits on overseas medical and dental students.

The HENSE Review Group will make recommendations so that decisions can be taken to determine the intake to medical and dental schools in England in 2013/14 and beyond. It is intended that, whatever the outcome of the review:

  • there should be no ‘big bang' change to intakes in 2013/14; and
  • the outcomes of the review should be regularly revisited.

The Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI) has been commissioned to provide analytical input taking into account the wide range of variables that will impact the demand for, and supply of, doctors and dentists in the long term – technological, economic, environmental, political, social ethical and demographic. This will include the projected increase in primary care services, and consequently the balance of future trainees across the specialties.

CfWI has gathered evidence, conducted an horizon-scanning exercise, and worked with a range of stakeholders to develop a range of possible future scenarios to inform assumptions for the modelling to be presented in the final report to the review group. There is no pre-set agenda and the review group will consider all options presented.

Professor Sir Graeme Catto is a formerpresident of the General Medical Council. He co-chairs the review into medical student numbers with Professor Sir Bruce Keogh.