Double the number of medical students, says leading doctor

The number of medical students needs to double in order to plug the gap in the doctor workforce, a leading physician has said.

Dr Bod Goddard, president elect of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), said that the Government must do more to increase the number of student doctors.

There are currently around 7,500 medical students.

In 2016, the Government pledged to expand undergraduate medical training places by 1,500.

But Dr Goddard said that this needs to be expanded by a further 6,000 doctors in order to fill workforce gaps and account for the rising numbers of physicians who are leaving medicine or choosing to retire early.

In an interview with the Press Association to mark the 500th anniversary of the RCP, Dr Goddard, a consultant physician and gastroenterologist at Royal Derby Hospital, said that workforce was the “big issue” facing British doctors and nurses.

There are currently 15,727 consultant physicians in the UK.

But Dr Goddard warned that each year, 45% of advertised consultant physician posts are not being filled.

This is leading to 2,500 vacancies, he added.

He said that workload for doctors has been increasing in an “unrelenting fashion”, adding: “The number of doctors and nurses has completely lost pace with the increase in demands that we have.

“Patients rightly expect to have high quality care with the latest technology and the workforce just isn’t there for them to be able to deliver that at the moment.

“That’s the biggest challenge we have got at the moment, other challenges that go along with that are: how do you fund the health service and along with that how do you fund social care.”

On workforce, Dr Goddard, who is to be the 101st person to be president of the RCP when he takes over from Professor Dame Jane Dacre on September 26, added: “The critical figure is that we are not filling 45% of consultant [physician] posts when we advertise them in the UK.

“That means that in an NHS which is struggling financially, they see consultants as really good value for money, but when they try and appoint, there just aren’t enough people coming through.

“Overall you are talking about 2,500 consultant level doctors short.

“You then have to worry about what is going to happen in the future because if we are that short already and we’re not producing any more doctors – the number of medical registrars we are training has remained utterly the same for the past 10 years – whereas the demand has increased relentlessly.

“If you were to put in a whole bunch of medical trainees now, where would we be in 12 years’ time when they would come out?

“After you work it all out, you’d double the number of medical students that we have got, and that will make up for the shortfall, account for changes in demand, allow for increases in retirement.

“If we are to do something now, we probably need to double the number of medical students that we have got, which sounds huge, but if you work it out that might be underestimating it.

“We have currently got 7,500 medical students, [plus the 1,500 additional pledged by Government] so we will still be 6,000 short.”

In the time it would take to train new medical students, the NHS could entice foreign doctors to come and work in the health service, he added.

“But unless we do something about the immigration system to facilitate skilled workers to come and work in the NHS, we are going to have a big problem. We need an interim stop gap,” he said.

Dr Goddard said that another problem is the wellbeing of the medical and nursing workforce.

“If you want your workforce to stay in place and you want to recruit people into the workforce you have to create a place to work that people want to work in,” he said.

“One of the problems that we have got is that doctors are leaving the system, both through training, while they are consultants and towards the end of their careers – people are retiring early in large numbers and that’s a huge loss of wisdom and skill to the NHS.”

The RCP celebrates its 500th anniversary on September 23.

The College was set up by Henry VIII in 1518 at the request of his own doctor Thomas Linacre.

The college was founded to maintain standards of medical care and prevent unlicensed practitioners from practising medicine.

As part of the celebrations, Dr Goddard plans to complete a 2,018 mile charity cycle ride.

For 18 months, he has been cycling in between hospitals in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, carrying the RCP’s new Charter underlining physicians’ commitment to providing great patient care.

More than 2,100 physicians from over 48 hospitals have signed the Charter.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “There are currently near-record numbers of NHS doctors working hard to make sure patients get excellent care and we are absolutely committed to supporting them.

“In addition to over 30,000 doctors currently in training, we recently announced the biggest ever increase in training places and five new medical schools to make sure the NHS has the doctors it needs for the future.”

Careers, UniversityWeb editor