Scotland to prioritise Scottish medical students

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Scotland struggles to retain many of the doctors it trains

Scottish universities are to recruit more medical students from Scotland at the expense of those from elsewhere in the UK.

The move will see the number of medical students who live north of the border increase by 100.

The number accepted from England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be reduced by the same amount.

It is hoped the move will ensure more doctors stay in Scotland after finishing their training.

The Scottish government said in 2016 that it would increase the number of medical school places by 190 over the next five years as part of efforts to tackle a shortage in doctors.

However, it fears that the Scottish NHS will not fully benefit from this increase unless more doctors actually stay and work in Scotland once they have graduated.

The government says medical students from other parts of the UK are twice as likely to leave after finishing their training than those who are from Scotland.

And it says Scotland currently has far fewer “home” domiciled medical students than England and Northern Ireland.

The government has estimated that increasing the number of Scottish medical students by 100 will lead to 36 new doctors working in the Scottish NHS each year.

‘Caused concern’

It hopes the move will also encourage some of the 100 or so Scots who study medicine elsewhere in the UK every year to train in Scotland instead.

The government has acknowledged that the new policy has “caused concern” with universities as it will disadvantage students from the rest of the UK, but it argues that the “positive gain” in the Scottish workforce justifies the move.

Scottish universities can charge £9,000 a year in fees to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “Evidence shows that Scots domiciled graduates remain working in NHS Scotland in the longer term at a significantly higher rate than graduates from elsewhere in the UK or overseas.

“Following discussion with universities, a new target for Scottish domiciled and the rest of EU medical student intake for 2019-20 was introduced in line with Scottish government guidance to increase retention of medical students.”

Universities Scotland said it was pleased that more Scots would be able to study medicine in Scotland – but it was “unfortunate” that students from other parts of the UK would lose out.

Its director, Alastair Sim, said: “We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Scottish government about how workforce needs across the NHS can be met, including monitoring the success of this initiative.”

The British Medical Association said Scotland should be careful not to turn down the most talented students purely because of where they live, and said the focus should instead be on making the Scottish NHS a more attractive place to work.

The Scottish Conservatives said it was “no surprise” that universities were concerned about the new policy, which it claimed was “yet more evidence of the deeply damaging discrimination inherent within SNP higher education policy.”

Analysis by Jamie McIvor, BBC Scotland education correspondent

As a general rule, universities are free to choose how many fee paying students from the rest of the UK and countries outside Europe to admit.

They have always strongly denied claims that Scots were deprived of places to let more fee paying students from elsewhere in.

Ordinarily they describe these suggestions as being like comparing apples and pears.

The number of places for Scots (and, at present, nationals of EU countries outside the UK) is agreed between universities and the Scottish Funding Council. Scots are not denied places, they insist, to give more fee paying students a chance.

So why should an increase in the number of places for Scots studying medicine mean a drop in the number of opportunities for those from the rest of the UK?

Essentially medicine is an exception.

The nature of the courses mean that it simply would not be practical to quickly increase the overall number of students. So more places for Scots mean, for now at least, that there will be fewer opportunities for others.

This may lead to some debate within universities which are always keen to portray themselves as international institutions.

Ordinarily though, any increase in the number of SFC funded places on a course would not lead to a directly corresponding drop in the number of places available to those who pay fees.

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