Three schools of medicine to be built

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THREE NEW medical schools are to be created to provide an extra 1,000 doctors a year from 2005, the Department of Health announced yesterday.

The move is intended to head off a looming workforce crisis in medicine as demand rises and changes such as the reduction in junior doctor hours place more strain on the NHS.

However, it will impose severe pressure on the healthcare budget. Doctors are responsible for spending most of the NHS's resources, so a rise in their numbers will mean a sharp leap in NHS costs.

Ministers announced yesterday that 2,200 extra doctors had started work in the NHS since the Government came to power two years ago, taking the total to a record 91,800. But the British Medical Association and the Royal Medical Colleges have warned there is still a shortage of 4,000 consultants and 1,000 GPs, while some specialities, such as obstetrics, have too few posts for the available doctors.

John Denham, the Health minister, said yesterday's announcement of extra training places was the biggest increase for 30 years. "The groundwork we are doing now will reap rewards in the NHS of the 21st century. It will give the NHS additional doctors to allow even more progress to be made in reducing doctors' hours, with all the benefits to patients and staff that that means."

The three new medical schools - at Durham, Keele and Warwick universities - will together take 282 medical students a year. A further 158 additional places have already been provided at existing medical schools for 1999- 2000 and these are to be boosted by another 400 places at existing schools from 2000-2001, making 840 places in all. The remaining 160 places are to be allocated next year.

The Medical Workforce Standing Advisory Committee told the Secretary of State for Health, Frank Dobson, in 1997 that 1,000 extra medical school places were needed - a 20 per cent increase on current numbers. It estimated that the demand for doctors would rise at 1.7 per cent per year over the next 20 years, similar to the trend in the past 20 years.