Think tank pushes government to increase medical places cap

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A report by independent think tank, Reform, has stated that the government should double its cap on the number of medical students being trained every year, as part of its pledge to improve health and social care.

Reform argue that increasing the capped number of medical school places from just over 6,000 to 12,000 would cost an extra £140 million annually, but that this would pay for itself by helping to save on the £1.3 billion that is spent by the NHS on agency doctors to fill the gaps.

The report – Getting into shape: delivering a workforce for integrated care – recommends that the NHS workforce undergoes a deregulation process to correct the imbalance between the acute sector and community care. At the moment there are nearly three doctors and four nurses in acute care for every respective one in community care.

A Freedom of Information request sent by Reform to 61 NHS Trusts has shown that just six per cent of consultants work at least one session a week in the community, while the number of these consultants has actually risen by a third since 2009. Conversely, GP numbers have fallen.

The report’s authors argue that removing the cap on medical places would allow the NHS to train enough people to fill the gaps. “The aim of the cap has been to control costs by limiting the number of doctors in training”, it states.

“The result, however, has been an inadequate pool of labour, difficult working conditions and a powerful staff body, many of whom choose to work for expensive agencies.”

As well as suggesting that doctors repay the taxpayer-funded costs of medical training if they decide not to work for the NHS, the report recommends that the Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs), should be able to make decisions over the workforce – having the authority to find their own ways to attract, train and retain staff.

Reform’s recommendations are suggestions by which the present system can be improved, a system that it calls “[…] siloed and disjointed”.

“This leads to an old-fashioned model of care in which patients are referred around the system to different regulated professionals, when care could be delivered by a smaller number of clinical staff working in one place”, the report stated.

Read Reform’s full report here.

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