Redressing the balance – let’s create too many doctors

10 October 2016

Jeremy Hunt announced this week that from 2018 there will be 1500 more medical school places per year. That’s a 25 per cent increase. Currently a quarter of doctors are from overseas. The case the Department of Health put forward for increasing the training places is that, given there is a global shortage of doctors, it is unfair to import doctors from poorer countries.

The Department is right. It costs £200,000 to train a doctor, money developing countries can little afford as their workforce moves away. It may be however that concerns about international injustices over the training of doctors are not the only drivers behind the new policy.

By opening up the number of medical school places there will be increased competition for jobs following graduation. Market forces will come into play with potentially more doctors than jobs. Increasing numbers could transform the market and tackle the monopolisation that doctors have over employment. The idea was discussed by Civitas earlier this year.

The current plans however may not go far enough. If the increase in UK graduates merely fills gaps where overseas doctors previously worked then there will be no market. In nursing, the Department of Health recently uncapped the number of places and a similar model could be translated to medicine.

The stumbling block is the £200,000 cost attached to medical school. Many hospitals are not transparent about how this money is spent and there is wide variation across the country on the cost hospitals charge for students. It is likely some of it goes towards patient care not training. Medical training could be made more efficient with additional doctors being educated within the current budget.

The Government could go further. One option would be to make the number of medical school places demand led; increase transparency surrounding the true cost of medical education and expect students to contribute more towards training. Such ideas would strengthen the market. As in any labour market a strong supply will drive up standards and, in the case of the health service, the quality of care delivered to patients.

Kate Laycock, Researcher, Reform

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