medical schools council

The expansion of medical student numbers

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Our position on expansion

In a recent position paper, the Medical Schools Council called for the number of medical school places to be increased by 5000 making a total of 14500 graduating doctors per year. Increasing the number of medical school graduates is also supported by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which represents the UK and Ireland’s 23 Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties.

The UK has never produced enough doctors to be self-sufficient and even before the pandemic there were widespread concerns about the workforce’s ability to meet the growing needs of patients. Expanding the medical workforce is essential if the NHS is to deal with the backlog of patients requiring elective care and reduce the pressures on doctors exhausted from working on the COVID-19 front line.

In the report MSC explores the case for expansion, analyses how many additional doctors might be needed, and presents a detailed proposal for how expansion could be enacted. It draws upon work led by the Royal College of Physicians, which has previously called for the number of medical school places to be doubled.

While workforce planning is always an inexact science, the need for more doctors is clear. Even if the number of medical school places were increased today, it would take ten to twelve years for those students to become GPs, and even longer to become consultants. It is clear that an urgent and radical rethink of medical workforce planning is therefore required.

This proposal from medical schools offers a potential solution for expanding the medical workforce in order to achieve greater sustainability in the supply of doctors. It invites discussion and collaboration between organisations, all of which will be integral to the successful recovery of the NHS from the pandemic, and to the future health of the nation.

Key findings and recommendations

  • The Medical Schools Council (MSC) recommends that the number of medical students should be increased by 5,000 making a total of 14,500 graduating doctors per year. This figure is based on current levels of doctors entering the NHS and it is acknowledged that the exact needs of the UK population and the NHS are difficult to predict.
  • The suggested figure falls short of the number of graduates required for the UK to have a fully sustainable medical workforce because MSC believes that medicine is a global profession and the input of doctors trained overseas is invaluable to the NHS.
  • One potential challenge to facilitating medical school expansion is placement capacity. Medical schools are already developing ways to enhance clinical training that could support increased capacity including the use of virtual learning opportunities and trained educators within placements.
  • The development of new ways of delivering medical education will also have an impact on the feasibility of expansion. There is already a course up and running in Scotland that utilises online learning and part time education to support healthcare professionals wishing to become doctors and Health Education England (HEE) is looking to develop medical apprenticeships in the near future.
  • The support and promotion of clinical academic careers will be essential if the UK is to expand the number of medical graduates. Students need skilled educators and clinicians to support their learning.
  • Any expansion of medical school places should take place through a collaborative rather than competitive process. New medical schools should be placed in areas based on the availability of clinical placements and the needs of local populations within geographical areas.


MSC Position Paper - The expansion of medical student numbers in the United Kingdom

Press release - Medical schools call for increase in doctors to support NHS recovery and sustainability