Ministers consider increasing medical student places this year in bid to ease A-levels crisis

Ministers are considering an increase in the number of medical student places this year as they try to stem the continuing crisis over A-levels.

In a dramatic U-turn earlier this week education secretary Gavin Williamson increased hundreds of thousands of GCSE and A-level grades.

The climbdown, after days of growing anger over the issue, means thousands of extra students now have the marks for their preferred courses.

But they face a scramble for places, with many slots already filled.

To ease the problem ministers have removed a cap on overall student numbers.

But a separate cap limits the number of medical students, who have to have clinical placements as part of their training.

The Royal College of GPs has called for the number of undergraduate medical places to increase by 20% as well as extra funding to help universities cope with the associated costs. Universities UK has also called for “increasing flexibilities within the medical student numbers cap”.

Asked whether he would consider lifting the cap on medical students, health secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “We are looking at that.

“Thankfully we’ve got an expansion in the number of medical places this year, the biggest number of medical places ever, because we’re hiring into the NHS, we’re growing the NHS and we want to make sure the NHS has the doctors it needs in the future,” he added.

“But I am absolutely looking at this issue.”

He later told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Of course there’s now a huge number of pupils who have the grades and so we’re working, very much immediately, on how we can go further than we already (have).”

Dr Helena McKeown, from the BMA, which represents doctors, said: “The BMA has long-campaigned for widening participation in medicine so that all those with the ability and desire to become doctors are given the opportunity to do so.

“The medical workforce needs to be far more reflective of the diverse patient population it serves, and following the U-turn by Government earlier this week, we have urged medical schools to review the applications of those who were earlier denied places due to the unfair grading process.

“The UK is vastly short of doctors so increasing the number of medics in training makes sense, however this must be followed up with support and funding for both the universities sector and the NHS further down the line.”

Mr Hancock also said all ministers were “trying to do their best” in a difficult situation amid calls for Mr Williamson to resign.

Ministers face another test tomorrow, as GCSE results are released, and at the end of this month as schools across England are to re-open for the first time in five months.

There is growing anger among Tory MPs over Mr Williamson’s handling of the crisis and calls for him to go at the next reshuffle.

“Moving forwards in the long term, ultimately we need to see the Cabinet as a whole occupied by people who have the talent and drive to lead their departments and freedom to express their views privately,” the chair of the defence select committee Tobias Ellwood told The Guardian.

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