A Times leading article alludes (correctly) that undergraduates are less value to the state than graduates who enter medical school. But Zawad Iqbal in “Doctors’ training needs streamlining before it’s too late” does highlight the problem of declining standards, and lowest common denominator medicine. The problem with the new GMC suggestion is that too low a standard may be deemed acceptable in order for us to have enough doctors in the short term. The fact that NHSreality would never have chosen to start from here is omitted. Long term rationing of medical school places, as well as too many undergraduates and too few graduates is to blame. A ten year program of capacity management may be undermined if we admit too many overseas doctors suddenly.. On the other hand, if the bar is set high enough… OK, I forget, nurses can do the job of a GP can’t they? NHSreality feels it is already too late, and it’s going to get worse… (Katie Gibbons reports from Kent: NHS operations postponed to save cash). Decommissioning is going to get worse still.
Sir, A medical licensing assessment for doctors is long overdue (“Doctors face tough new test on basic skills”, Feb 1). There is a similar situation for dentists. A third of the dentists entered each year on the General Dental Council’s register qualified at an overseas university. UK graduates are not tested by a common examination but by the individual university dental schools, which do try, mostly with success, to maintain sufficient quality and commonality. Many of the overseas new dentists entering the UK come from EU countries and cannot be tested. Brexit is the ideal opportunity to introduce a new robust common assessment for all doctors and dentists registering in the UK.
Recent years have seen a frightening increase in medical and dental litigation. Evidence for an association is weak but if a basic clinical education is lacking problems surely lie ahead both for the practitioner and, more worryingly, for the patient.
The news that thousands of newly qualified doctors aren’t confident enough to perform basic tasks such as taking blood is a real canary in the coal mine moment — a warning sign that the way we teach doctors urgently needs to change.
Part of the problem is that the basic structure of medical training hasn’t changed in more than a hundred years. The General Medical Council sets the standards for undergraduate medical education and supervises the training and education of students. But the content and length of a medical degree varies widely, depending on which institution you attend, and the different medical schools are allowed to set their own criteria for licensing doctors.
There is no common standard to practise in the UK. Doctors from the European Union can work here if they’ve passed relevant exams in their own country. Doctors from other parts of the world are given a separate test, resulting in a confusing system with no overall benchmark.
So it’s a relief that medical regulators now want to introduce a standard test. But that’s still some years away and frankly it’s not enough. We should seize the opportunity to conduct a bigger and more wholesale review of how we train our doctors and whether these decades-old methods are up to scratch.
What doctors needed to know ten years ago is often a world away from what they need to know today. Basic science and clinical science remain the core modules on medical courses but healthcare delivery is becoming ever more important. As well as introducing a common approach to basics such as taking blood samples and performing lumbar punctures, areas such as data analysis, IT skills and interpersonal ability must play a bigger role in medical training.
One of the biggest opportunities being missed is in postgraduate medical education. This is because postgraduate training falls under the NHS rather than a university or medical school. Our doctors need to keep learning new skills if they’re going to give their increasingly well-informed patients the best treatments. The doctor of the future will not necessarily carry a stethoscope around his or her neck but will more likely be one of a specialist team working alongside health technicians, pharmacists and nurses.
Rather than introduce a new standard test for doctors after they have qualified, they and their patients would be better served if medical schools standardised the courses they begin at 18.