19/10/2004

Training budget shortfalls threatens NHS staff levels, says BMA

Shortfalls in the budget for doctors' training in England will have a "detrimental effect" on patient care and NHS staffing levels, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned.

In a briefing paper for MPs, the association called on the government to reinstate the funding to safeguard the quality of training.

Postgraduate deaneries and local organisations responsible for medical training, have seen their planned budgets for the year fall by £20 million, the BMA said. Deaneries across England had already allocated their budgets when the government published "lower growth figures", forcing them to make cuts, according to the association.

The Northern deanery in Newcastle initially threatened to cancel doctors' study leave, preventing them from taking courses in skills such as life-saving - but withdrew the plans after public outcry. However, it is now cutting funding for flexible training posts, which boost hospital staffing levels and allow junior doctors to train part-time, the BMA said.

The London deanery has also cut the amount it funds flexible training posts, which is putting pressure on doctors to change their choice of career.

Dr Lauren Williams, a Senior House Officer in Carshalton and a professional triathlete, has tried to balance her career in medicine with a career in athletics but has been repeatedly been turned down for flexible training in London. She has now decided to move out of the capital.

Dr Williams said: "It's common for doctors in my grade to work around 56 hours a week. I don't think there's anything wrong with that and I always knew being a doctor would be hard work - I just want to be able to put some time into my triathlon training. If I don't get the chance to work part-time while I'm still young enough to pursue my sporting ambitions, I can see myself leaving the NHS altogether."

Access to flexible training is already severely limited for junior doctors, which has a detrimental effect on recruitment and retention, according to BMA research. Only one-in-10 young hospital doctors currently works less than full-time, but almost half would like to in future. Some give up medicine altogether to pursue careers with better work-life balance, the association claimed.

Dr Jo Hilborne, deputy chair of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee, said: "Many hospitals already take a dim view of junior doctors who want the opportunity to work part-time. What they seem to forget is that it costs £250,000 to train a doctor, and if they then abandon medicine for a career with better work-life balance, there's a huge loss to the NHS.

"Reinstating deaneries' funding would be an excellent way for the government to show it's serious about improving working lives."

(gmcg/mb)

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