Dr Colin Smith: Dealing with an unhelpful government

From his last address as chairman of the BMA's medical academic staff committee
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Our need for a flexible national contract has been recognised by Universities UK and the Council of Heads of Medical Schools. We have been given a commitment that the money to fund it will be available, and we now have the opportunity to get a contract that addresses the staffing crisis currently threatening medical education and research.

However, these efforts have not been helped by the Government's draconian approach. Despite recent suggestions of a softly-softly approach, they have reverted to unhelpful hammer-style tactics - issuing documents and statements without consultation. It is difficult not to respond aggressively to such bullying tactics, but by working directly with the bodies that represent our employers we can move forward.

The other challenge facing academic medicine is funding. Without a proper increase in resources, medical schools will continue to suffer, and the proposed reforms to research funding mean that unless you are deemed a star performer you will not get the money you need. This will force many academics to choose between teaching and research early on, seriously threatening the vital link between the two.

The Government's white paper on higher education has also presented challenges for medical academics. While we welcome the fact that teaching excellence is to be rewarded, tuition fees could make medicine extraordinarily expensive, and deter groups already under-represented in the profession. Recent estimates that they could face debts of up to £100,000 will hardly widen access.