UK's first private medical school will open in September 2008

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 08 November 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:957
  1. Rebecca Coombes
  1. London

    Britain's first private medical school will take students from next September, amid doubts that all of its graduates will be able to get jobs in the NHS.

    The school, which will be based at the University of Buckingham, an independent university, will open with a modest intake of 25 postgraduate students. It will train already qualified doctors and will award a clinical MD.

    The school's board, whose members include Luke Johnson, the former chairman of the Pizza Express chain of restaurants and current chairman of Channel 4 television, is involved in raising £12m (€17m; $25m) to launch a second school in 2009 for graduates who want to train as doctors on a fast track, four year programme. The founders expect candidates to be mainly mature entrants or graduates from overseas.

    Neither school will receive any government funding, surviving largely on students' fees and private investment. The founding dean, Karol Sikora, professor of cancer medicine and honorary consultant oncologist at Imperial College London School of Medicine, said the fees would be on a par with those charged by Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

    The students will have placements in three NHS hospitals: Ealing Hospital, London; St Richard's Hospital, Chichester; and Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport. The hospitals will be paid by the University of Buckingham for providing clinical facilities and consultant teaching time. Students will also train at private sector centres, including the London Clinic and the six London hospitals of HCA International.

    Professor Sikora admitted that starting the second degree programme was proving “more troublesome” than the first. He said, “This has to be viewed as a global escapade. In the graduate entry programme half the students will be from overseas—and 25% from [continental] Europe and 25% from the UK. Medical teaching is first class in the UK and is respected around the world.”

    The venture is launching at a critical time for medical recruitment in the UK: this year applicants far outnumbered specialty training places.

    Professor Sikora quoted from the report of the Wanless review of future NHS funding (BMJ 2002;324:998 doi: 10.1136/bmj.324.7344.998), which predicted that the UK would need an extra 25 000 doctors in 20 years' time.

    But Matt Jameson Evans, spokesman for Remedy UK, the junior doctors' group that was formed to fight government changes to medical training, said, “There isn't room for any more new doctors. The only option is a massive expansion of consultant posts. Putting more people in at the bottom end is only going to make things worse.

    “Privately, people are saying that we actually need to cut medical school places back to 1997 levels. This school could make things worse. I can understand why they want to reclaim some autonomy in medical teaching, but it is just a splinter group.

    Professor Sikora said, however, that the school's courses would attract graduates looking for an alternative to training in other UK universities.

    The graduate entry programme will rotate on eight modules; and accountancy, law, and business studies will also be taught.

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