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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
Where will new GPs be found?

By Karen Allen
BBC Health Correspondent

More doctors are needed
The Health Secretary Dr John Reid will open a new medical school in Brighton and Sussex on Wednesday.

The government has ambitious plans to expand the medical workforce.

But new figures due out this week are likely to show that the shortage of GPs is worse than ministers had predicted.

So just how much difference will a new medical school make?

There are just 136 students at Britain's newest medical school.

Everyone is here because they are motivated and they want to do it for its own right and not necessarily just to fill some gaps in the health service
Tim Crossman
They have been here just a couple of weeks and already they have been forced to get to grips with the complexity of human anatomy.

It will take five years before the school is full to capacity - and five years before this first year's intake is qualified to treat patients on their own.

It is a 28.5m venture designed to address current shortages of doctors in the NHS.

Students like Tim Crossman though are keen for it not to be seen as simply a production line.

"Everyone is here because they are motivated and they want to do it for its own right and not necessarily just to fill some gaps in the health service."

Walking through the empty corridors there is a real sense of expectation that we are grooming the next generation of doctors, but just how much difference these new recruitments will make depends on what areas they choose to specialise in.

Right from the start visits to Brighton's main hospital give the students a flavour of what a career on the wards is all about.

But there is hope that instead of opting for hospital work some of this year's intake will choose a career in general practice.

Vacancy rates

I work well under pressure and just the whole urgency of the situation, knowing that everything depends on you
Laura Bottomley
Not least because ministers are expecting that figures released on Thursday will show that job vacancies for family doctor posts are running at an all time high.

The BBC asked all 136 medical students about their career ambitions. It is not a scientific survey and 9% of students have yet to make up their minds.

But only 13% confirmed they would like a career in general practice. Alarmingly, 10% made it clear that they definitely did not.

Most, like Laura Bottomley, are attracted by what they see as the cutting edge areas of medicine like cardiology and accident and emergency medicine.

"I work well under pressure and just the whole urgency of the situation, knowing that everything depends on you.

"I know a lot of people would run away from that, but I think that drives me in a lot of ways, and I would really like to be on the front line."

Funding concerns

The medical school's dean Professor Jon Cohen is keen to emphasise that this should not be seen as a GP factory, but as an academic institution.

There is talk that in future rather than being jointly funded with education the health department could gain total control over how medical schools are financed and run. That worries him.

"We are all aware that the Department of Health is an organisation which quite rightly is focusing on a number of short-term priorities.

"I suppose the concern would be that that might be reflected in the funding flows to the medical schools in a way which would, perhaps, distort the longer term aims of the medical school to produce students who are fit for purpose in 10-15 years."

Ministers will boast that under a Labour government medical school places have risen by 50%.

The question is, will this translate into ambitious targets to increase the number of staff on the frontline?

Women now make up 60% of medical trainees - and many will want to work part time.

So Pippa Gough of the research group The Kings Fund is urging caution.

"We have got a rapidly growing female medical workforce. Women traditionally have wanted to work more part-time, more flexible hours.

"In the past we have had the male medic who, in this rather heroic fashion, has been there 70 hours a week, working through the night constantly on call and that is not going to be way it is in future.

"As we see the gender of medicine change, we are going to see working patterns changing with it."

The bottom line is that we simply don't know precisely how many doctors an expanding health service will need in years to come.

The British Medical Association has predicted that half of all newly qualified junior doctors would have to opt for general practices for all the vacant posts to be filled - in the present climate its hard to see how that will happen.

NHS struggling to fill posts
31 Jul 03  |  Health
GP shortage 'worsens'
28 Jan 03  |  Health

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