Aspiring doctors have no option but to head East

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The Independent Online
BRITISH students desperate to be doctors - such as the Scot Brian MacKinnon, who re-invented his youth - are paying Eastern bloc universities more than pounds 30,000 to get qualified.

One Czech university has 45 medical students from Britain enrolled, and colleges in Poland and Hungary are also taking in students, many of whom failed to obtain one of the 4,500 places available at medical schools in the UK each year.

Mr MacKinnon, aged 32, who posed as a 17-year-old, Brandon Lee, to qualify for medical school and has now been told he cannot continue at Dundee University, is one of thousands of people desperate to become doctors who have discovered how hard it is to train in the UK.

Although the number of university places in most subjects has increased dramatically over the past 10 years, there has not been a comparable jump in places for medical school students. The last medical school to open was at Leicester University in 1980.

With relatively few doctors being trained and cuts in the hours juniors are allowed to work, Britain is suffering from a serious shortage of young medics. Doctors from Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and South Africa are being hired by NHS trusts to fill vacancies.

But while qualified doctors are coming here, UK students who want to be doctors, such as Birkenhead-born Imran Shah, are going in the opposite direction to get trained.

Shah, the son of an orthopaedic surgeon, achieved three Bs in his A- levels and was turned down by five UK schools. He is now in his second year at Palacky University at Olomouch in the Czech Republic. "There are 15 others from England in my year, and about 45 from England in the medical school as a whole," he said. "Many achieved excellent grades, but had no choice but to come here.

"It costs me US$7,000 a year, including accommodation, and I will probably be here for another five years.

"I have always been determined to be a doctor and there was no way I was not going to be. Once I've finished here I intend to return to London and work there. The British system is very strict and there should be more medical colleges."

Malvern's Abbey College acts as an agent for some Eastern universities. It also offers a year-long, pounds 10,000 foundation course for those seeking a European place. There are currently 12 on the course and many are destined for Prague's Charles University.

Hekmat Kaveh, UK representative of the Association of Czech and Slovak Universities said: "The courses in Europe cost between $8,000 and $10,000 a year and the fees are frozen at the rate you enter at, so people can plan ahead.

"There are not enough places at British universities and provision has not increased for some time. If a new medical school opened with 600 places available it would be filled."

The General Medical Council says that graduates of these courses would be assessed as to whether they qualified for full or limited registration. If limited registration was given, they would have to undergo further practical training.

The number of students in medical training in the UK has hardly changed over the past 10 years, according to Department of Education figures. In 1986, there were 23,100 students, compared with 23,800 last year.

A 24-hour helpline has been set up for family doctors in the south of England, their spouses and children, amid mounting concern that many doctors are continuing to practise while depressed or under stress, writes Nick Carr. Doctors are one of the highest-risk professional groups for depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide, and more doctors have been seeking help in recent years because of rising workloads.Former GP Dr Eric Rose, a full-time local medical committee secretary for Bedfordshire, Berks and Bucks, said he received regular calls from doctors having difficulties with workloads and the loneliness of the consulting room. "I recently spent one afternoon on the phone to three doctors who all broke down in tears," said Dr Rose. One survey of 200 doctors in Lincolnshire found that 14per cent were clinically depressed and about one-third felt more depressed than the patients they were treating.