Figures from UCAS show interest in pursuing medical careers among UK school leavers appears to be dwindling, with the number applying for medical degrees falling 14% since 2014.
Applications for medicine degrees by home-grown students dropped from a high of 17,140 in 2014 to 15,220 in 2015, before falling again to 14,820 for courses beginning this year in 2016.
The number of EU and overseas students applying for UK University places over this period remained broadly consistent. Combined, the total number of applicants has fallen by 11% since 2014.
One medical school – St George’s at the University of London – has announced that it will offer places on its medicine MBBS course through clearing for the first time this summer.
A spokeswoman for St George's said the decision had been made due to the 'unpredictability of A level grades' and to ensure that the entry process was as fair as possible for all students.
GP leaders warned that the figures should send alarm bells ringing across the NHS.
The tail off in applicants has been particularly prominent in those re-applying for places, which dropped by a quarter (24%) in the last two years. The number of first-time applicants was 9% lower in 2016 than it was in 2014.
The decrease follows a series of progressive increases from 2012 to 2014, which saw the number of applicants rise by 5%.
Total applicants still outnumber the total number of places available – between 7,500 and 8,000 students are accepted onto medicine courses a year – although not all may meet the high requirements.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘This is a significant change. In the recent past there's been a huge focus on students applying for medical school, it was seen as a prestigious thing for the brightest and best to be doing – and that’s clearly no longer the case.
‘It should send alarm bells that we need to be recruiting more doctors to work within the NHS and to train in the UK to fill the vacancies in general practice, A&E and other key specialties.
‘We’re discouraging our young students from taking medicine as a career. That may be for a variety of reasons – it could be they're picking up on the persistent negative press doctors have received in recent years. Bright students are no fools, they’ll realise they can earn far more and get greater satisfaction by taking other career paths.’
He added that the junior doctor dispute which has led the headlines over the past year could spell further troubled for the uptake in the upcoming round of recruitment.
‘All of these things add up together. The regular impression in the lay media that new students will be receiving is that doctors are not appreciated and valued by their employer, they are given huge workloads, asked to work unreasonable hours and are receiving remuneration that is less than would be expected in other career paths.
‘So I think we do need to take these warning signs seriously, and can't assume that – as has been the case for many, many years – that the brightest and best students will be wanting to become doctors.’
Students looking to apply for courses starting 2017 have until 15 October 2016 to apply through UCAS.