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4% drop in applications to study medicine, latest figures reveal

Reflects ongoing trend; BMA blames demoralised NHS, junior doctors’ dispute and Brexit

Caroline White

Friday, 28 October 2016

The overall number of applicants for ‘early deadline’ degree courses, which include medicine, has risen by 1% this year, but the number of would-be doctors has fallen by 4%, the latest UCAS figures reveal.

October 15 is the annual deadline for medicine, dentistry, and veterinary degrees, as well as for all courses at Cambridge and Oxford universities. The total number of applicants for these early deadline courses was 57,190 – an increase of 1% on last year (+560 people). 

But there were 19,210 applicants to medicine courses in total, representing a 4% drop (-890) on last year and continuing a series of annual declines, which began in 2014, the figures show.

The number of 18-year-olds from England who have applied to study medicine has risen by 5% (+310 applicants), however, supported by increases in 19-year-olds applying for the first time.

Other findings show that the number of applicants from the UK to this deadline has risen by 3% (+1,110 people) to 39,440 this cycle, with strong growth in demand from 18-year-olds in England (+8%) and Wales (+7%), with nearly 2,000 more people submitting applications despite the proportion of the population in this age group falling again this year by around 2%.

However, applicants from the EU to this deadline have fallen by 9% (-620 people) to 6,240, ending a trend of annual increases over recent years. EU applicant numbers for this 2017 entry cycle are close to where they were for 2015, reversing the 8% increase seen in 2016 cycle.

Applicant numbers from outside the EU rose by 1%, to 11,510 people, similar to last year.

Dr Charlie Bell, co-chair of the BMA’s medical student committee said: “This sharp decline shows that, for some students, medicine is sadly no longer seen as a desirable and satisfying career. I believe we are seeing the impact of the breakdown in trust between the government and the medical profession over the last year as a result of the junior doctor contract dispute.”

Staff shortages, a funding crisis and ever greater pressure on services, meant the NHS was perceived as a less desirable place to work, added to which rising tuition fees and increasing student debt were deterring students from applying for medicine, he insisted.

“It’s concerning, if not unsurprising, to see the sharpest decrease has been among applicants from the European Union. After the referendum result and the government’s inability to clarify future funding arrangements for EU students, it must be hard for capable, talented young people from Europe to see a future working in the NHS,” he continued.

As a recent BMA study indicated that almost half of doctors surveyed were planning to move abroad to work, the government should be focusing on creating a health service that can both attract and retain the doctors it needs, he suggested.

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