COVID-19 impact on medical schools risks 'serious damage' to future NHS workforce

Medical training and the future NHS workforce could be seriously damaged by the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on medical schools, a report has warned.

Medical schools’ income has been ‘severely threatened’ by COVID-19, with universities forced to ask staff to consider voluntary pay reductions, early retirement or redundancy to cope with budget constraints, a BMJ report warns.

The report follows a warning in July from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) that the pandemic posed a considerable financial threat to universities, with estimated losses of around £11bn - more than 25% of the sector’s annual income.

Staff cuts triggered by the crisis are causing significant concern about how student education will be affected, while new COVID-19 rules are dramatically altering the curriculum. The report also warns that a real-terms pay cut for senior academic clinicians is forcing doctors away from teaching.

Funding cuts

Closures, cuts to charity income, fear among international students and a ‘botched A-level algorithm’ have thrown medical school into chaos and severely cut funding, the report warns.

Charity funded research at universities is expected to fall by 41% for the financial year 2020/21, resulting in a projected reduction in medical research investment of £252m-£368m and further threatening jobs.

The number of students entering medical school wil also increase this year after the government lifted the cap on places - 7,500 medical school places had originally been made available for 2020. 

Doctors' leaders recently warned that medical schools will need more funding to cope with a rise in student numbers. The RCGP has welcomed government assurances that this will be provided, but medical schools have warned that even with more funding, capacity to expand is limited.

Medical training

BMA medical academic staff committee co-chair Dr David Strain admitted that making academics redundant would seriously damage teaching.

He said: ‘We’ve lost too many senior clinical academics over recent years, and we cannot afford to lose any more: to do so would be disastrous for the extent of medical research in the UK and the quality of learning in our medical schools, to the detriment of the NHS workforce of tomorrow.’

Recent pay rises for NHS staff mean that clinical academic consultants and senior academic GPs are paid at least 2.8% less than equivalent NHS posts. The BMJ report warns that this has forced academics to step away from teaching.

Final year medical student at Southampton University and co-chair of the BMA’s medical students committee, Chris Smith said: ‘We’ve heard stories up and down the country of medical school staff leaving and not being replaced. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the academics: we don’t want to see anyone forced into taking a pay cut, and, if we lose academics, medical students will be the ones that lose out.’

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