Tuesday, June 22, 1999 Published at 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
New schools in doctor drive
More medical students are needed, says the government
The government has announced the foundation of three new medical schools as part of a drive to increase the number of doctors in the NHS.
The government is aiming to increase the number of medical school places by 1,000 by the year 2005.
Health minister John Denham said: "The groundwork we are doing now to enable these additional medical students to begin training, will reap rewards in the NHS of the 21st century."
The planned increase was announced following a recommendation to the government from an independent body which examines pay and working conditions in the NHS.
Increased doctor numbers
But the government has also revealed that the total number of doctors working in the NHS has increased during its first year in office.
This includes 840 extra consultants, and 300 new GPs and trainee GPs.
But the Hospital Consultants and Specialists' Association says that numbers will have to be increased far more quickly to have any effect.
Former president Dr Robin Loveday said: "Increasing the numbers of medical students is a step in the right direction, but it will be 12 or 13 years before they are ready to be appointed as consultants.
"We need a 10 per cent increase in the number of specialists now."
The British Medical Association (BMA) has continued to highlight what it calls a "workforce crisis" in the health service, with morale among both consultants and junior doctors at a low level.
BMA Chairman Dr Ian Bogle said: "By 2005, medical school numbers will have risen by 20%.
"That is a significant investment and very good news but unfortunately it will still leave our health service very short of doctors."
Earlier this month, junior doctors threatened to strike over their long hours and low pay.
And consultants have also complained that their work-rate could reduce the quality of the care they deliver to patients.
Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "We welcome the increase in places for trainee doctors announced today but it is quite wrong for Frank Dobson to crow about the number of doctors in training when his policies are actually forcing hundreds of them out of our health service.
"It's all very well providing training places, but the Government refuses to go further and create sufficient consultant posts for the trainees to graduate into."
Year-on-year workload rises
BMA evidence to the House of Commons Health Select Committee claims that over the past four years, inpatient and day case activity has increased by 4.2% a year, and new outpatients by 4.8% a year.
It warns that 2,000 extra doctors may be needed per year to meet this demand.
The EU working time directive, from which junior doctors are currently exempt, will eventually reduce weekly working hours to a maximum of 56, although some are currently working as many as 72.
This, says the BMA, will increase pressure on doctors as there will be fewer doctors available to do the work at any particular time.
Britain currently relies heavily on doctors from overseas to make up the numbers in its medical workforce.