Straight-A students are being turned away from medicine degrees at British universities due to ‘bonkers’ government quotas, health experts have warned.
The news comes as the NHS recruits foreign doctors in record numbers, many of whom have ‘little or no knowledge of British culture’.
Quotas mean that top students are forced to study medicine abroad – and fund their own education – or choose another degree.
For 2013-2014, English universities were allowed to recruit just 6,071 medicine students, even though the General Medical Council registers 13,000 doctors each year and the NHS struggles to recruit enough staff.
An estimated 6,000 newly-registered doctors each year are foreigners who trained overseas. Experts have warned this practice puts lives at risk, because many of these doctors have poor English and are not always familiar with drugs used in this country.
Despite these concerns, thousands of school-leavers who received their A-level results this month have been turned down for medicine. They include Caroline Cieslewicz, 18, who got straight As but was rejected by every university she applied to.
Vanessa Bourne, former chairman of the Patients Association, said: ‘The situation is bonkers. The system needs a complete overhaul.’
Dr J Meirion Thomas, a leading London cancer surgeon, added: ‘The Government needs to take urgent action to help more students study medicine in the UK by increasing the number of places on courses.
‘Most applicants are rejected despite having the required grades. We encourage them to become doctors, then we slap them back for want of places.
‘Having to go abroad and fund their own studies is a massive disincentive and means many will choose other degrees instead.
Until then, patients remain at risk from foreign doctors who have poor language skills and may not have been trained to our high standards.’
Medical emergency: Despite universities turning away British medical students, the NHS are taking in a record number of foreign doctors
Dr Thomas recently attacked the Government for limiting the number of ‘expensive’ places at British medical schools in an article for The Spectator.
It costs around £250,000 to put a student through medical school.
TURNED DOWN BY FOUR UNIVERSITIES - DESPITE A-GRADES
Those reading medicine in England pay tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year – the same as students of the majority of other subjects.
However, medicine courses last five or six years, depending on the university.
Students accepted on NHS-funded places are able to apply for means-tested bursaries to help fund their course, while all students are eligible for a non-means tested bursary of £1,000 in their fifth and sixth years.
Dr Thomas wrote: ‘Most readers will be surprised to learn that every year, we import 40 per cent of our doctors because of insufficient training places in British medical schools.
So, 40 per cent of doctors starting work in the NHS every year have little or no knowledge and experience of British culture or of our Health Service – and this in the most people-centric occupation of all. It really does matter.’
Universities’ medicine courses are vastly oversubscribed – but the Department of Health quotas block them from taking on more undergraduates.
In one example, the University of Bristol had 4,000 applicants for its three medicine and surgery courses this year but just 232 places – enough for just one in 17.
The University of Birmingham had 2,500 applicants but could accept only 334 undergraduates.
The applicants to these two universities alone could have filled the entire country’s quota for the year.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: ‘We have worked hard to make sure that we have enough places in medical schools to become a self-sufficient Health Service.
‘There is a cap on the number of non-European Economic Area students that can attend medical education in England.’
A recent GMC survey found foreign-trained doctors were four times more likely to be suspended or struck off than those from the UK.
David Gray, 70, died in 2009 after German locum Dr Daniel Ubani gave him ten times the normal does of diamorphine.
Nigerian-born Ubani, who had had only a few hours’ sleep after flying over to the UK for his first shift, could barely speak English and was unfamiliar with the painkiller he used.
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