Over 9,000 medical school places available in 2021 as cap lifted

A record 9,000 English medical school places will be available this year after the government agreed to boost funding for universities amid a 20% rise in applications, the Department for Education has announced.

In response to increased applications, and potentially more students receiving the required grades after the pandemic led to A-level exams being cancelled for the second year running, the government has adjusted the cap on medical and dentistry places for courses in 2021.

English universities will be able to take on more students that have met entry requirements, with up to an extra £10m of funding helping to ensure teaching, learning and assessments standards are maintained. However, this funding will also be shared with nursing and other science and technology courses.

The government said that the move would help to boost the future NHS workforce. But the BMA has warned that extra support for medical schools ‘must not come at the expense’ of funding for the existing workforce, or result in future funding cuts.

Medical school places

In February it was announced that applications for medical school places rose by a fifth compared with last year, marking a second record-breaking year in a row and driving up competition for places. The main reason behind this was A-level results being determined by teacher assessments and therefore more students getting the required grades.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock lifted the cap last year - set at approximately 7,500 places in England - following disruption to exams caused by the pandemic. And the government is looking to ease pressure on places for this year by increasing the cap.

The cap on medical school places is intended to ensure standards are maintained and that every student has an appropriate placement and training throughout their studies.

Current health and social care secretary Sajid Javid, said: ‘COVID-19 has challenged healthcare staff and students like never before, and our nation has relied on them to keep us and our loved ones safe.

Quality healthcare staff

‘As we look beyond the pandemic, it’s incredibly important we safeguard the future of our NHS by ensuring there is a pipeline of high-quality staff to bolster the workforce in the years ahead.

‘Working closely with universities, we’re helping more students who meet the bar to get a place this year to study medicine or dentistry and join these fantastic professions.’

The BMA's 'Medical Staffing in England' report recently found that the future medical workforce shortage by 2043 could be between 26,889 and 83,779 FTE doctors. It also noted that general practice has 1,307 (4.4%) fewer fully qualified FTE GPs at present than in September 2015.

Responding to the announcement, BMA medical academics committee co-chair Dr Mary Anne Burrow, said: ‘We welcome the news that there will be extra funding for medical school places as this desperate need for more doctors in training is a recommendation that we made in our report, which we issued last month.

Workforce funding protection

‘However, this increase in student places must not come at the expense of extra funding for the existing workforce or reductions in funding in future years, because tackling the waiting lists and backlog are going to require sustained investment over many years. And the government must make clear that there will be sufficient clinical places for all those who succeed at medical school.

‘We don’t have enough doctors, those that are working are exhausted and burned out. Finding the money to train doctors of the future is therefore essential but must be matched with the right investments in medical educators and clinical places to ensure that this leads to a sustained increase in the medical workforce.’

Last September, a report warned that medical training and the future NHS workforce could be seriously damaged by the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on medical schools, with income 'seriously threatened'.

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