Hospitals that undertake medical education receive extra funding through a mechanism called SIFT (Service Increment for Teaching). However, a new BMA report states that the Department of Health has very little idea of how money allocated through SIFT is spent.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the BMA's Medical Academic Staff Committee asked 33 teaching hospitals in England to provide an account of their SIFT expenditure in the last five years.
Ten did not respond at all, and of the 23 that did, ten could not say how their SIFT funding had been spent. Many reported that it was absorbed into the trust's overall budget and was not recorded separately. Few appeared to have rigorous auditing structures in place with regard to SIFT funding.
The BMA is calling for money intended for education to be strictly ringfenced, and for greater accountability about the way it is spent.
Professor Michael Rees, chairman of the BMA Medical Academic Staff Committee, said: 'Medical students represent the future of the NHS. It is highly worrying that trusts appear to be raiding money intended for education in order to get out of financial difficulty. The need for decent funding has become even more important in recent years, in which numbers of medical students have grown, and numbers of academic staff to teach them have fallen.'
Emily Rigby, chair of the BMA Medical Students Committee, says: 'Unless it is strictly ringfenced, money that's supposed to be spent on educating the next generation of doctors will disappear into the NHS melting pot. Trusts need to be far more accountable.'
The full report can be found on the BMA website.