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Psychiatrists call for massive increase in medical school places

They say 15,000 more students need to enter medical school by 2029

Mark Gould

Monday, 30 September 2019

The number of medical school places in England must be doubled to stop NHS mental health services imploding in the future, says the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The College says that rising numbers of people needing help with mental illness – including depression and eating disorders - and the growing mental health crisis in our classrooms, means the number of students entering medical school each year needs to rise to 15,000 by 2029.


A new briefing paper from the College calls for the government to allocate the new places to those medical schools with strategies to deliver the best undergraduate experience in psychiatry.

The expansion will ultimately lead to an estimated extra 4,497 consultant psychiatrists, helping the government meet the bold aspirations for expanding mental health services set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, while ensuring the growing demand for psychiatric care is met. 

The briefing paper anticipates a 25% drop-out rate before trainees become a consultant psychiatrist and by using birth data for all NHS doctors, estimates 2,420 psychiatrists could retire by 2029.

The paper argues the government should expand the number of places from the 7,500 currently available to 9,000 by 2022/23, and then create 1,000 places each year to 2028/29.

Professor Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “It is disgraceful that some parents are having to look on helplessly as their child with anorexia or severe depression deteriorates untreated because professional help isn’t available.

“Psychiatry is already heavily reliant on doctors trained overseas. While we welcome the invaluable contributions of these doctors to the workforce, this is not sustainable, especially with Brexit on the horizon.

“The government must wake up to the fact that only a significantly expanded home-grown workforce is going to allow us to realise their commendable ambitions to improve mental health care.

“They have an opportunity now to grasp the nettle and show the imagination and foresight to ensure by 2029 people with mental illness are no longer suffering in silence.”

The College has just published a guide – Choose Psychiatry: Guidance for Medical Schools – to help and support medical schools to deliver the best undergraduate experience in psychiatry.

The next round of the College’s Choose Psychiatry campaign, which encourages junior doctors to choose psychiatry, takes place next month. Launched in 2017, it has helped lead to a 30% increase in the number of doctors training in psychiatry.

But the 13 years it takes to train as a consultant psychiatrist means there is a significant lag between starting medical school and working independently on the front line.

Dr Ellen Wilkinson, the College’s workforce lead, said: “The doubling of medical school places will ensure the NHS has the sustainable psychiatric workforce it needs for the future.

“While our Choose Psychiatry campaign has helped increase the numbers of doctors choosing to train in psychiatry, the government must now act if it is to meet the growing demand for mental health services.”

Recent NHS Digital data shows there is currently an over-reliance on non-UK trained staff, with around only half of consultant psychiatrists qualifying in the UK compared with 61% for all hospital and community doctors.

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