Medical and dentistry places to return to pre-pandemic levels

Students who deferred entry must be accommodated within intake targets, says letter from Michelle Donelan and Edward Argar

The cap on medical and dentistry places will not be lifted for 2022, universities have been told.

Higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan and health minister Edward Argar wrote to universities on 15 October – the deadline for medical and dental applications for 2022 – confirming that the cap will not be adjusted to accommodate students who deferred in 2021.

The letter also confirmed that the lifting of the cap in May and August, in order to accommodate deferrals and a 20% rise in applications, was temporary, saying “it is vital that as we move forward out of the pandemic that we work together to ensure intakes for these courses are sustainable and that we return to pre-pandemic levels.”

In May 2021, the government released funding for an additional 630 medical and dentistry places to universities in England to accommodate students who deferred from 2020/1. In August 2021, a further 456 places were funded for the 2021/22 intake. This represented a total of 9,296 extra medical and dentistry places, up from just under 8,400 confirmed places in 2019/20. 

Rather than restricting the ability of students applying this year to train as doctors and dentists, the Government could support its long-term ambition to increase the number of doctors in the NHS by expanding and properly funding the number of training places available – Russell Group

Although the letter acknowledges the adjusted targets for 2021/22 will “in the long-term help boost our future NHS workforce”, it goes on to confirm “these controls will not be adjusted this year under any circumstances. Any students who have deferred entry from 2021 will need to be accommodated within the intake targets communicated by the OfS. No government funding will be provided for any students over and above your intake target set by the OfS.”

Donelan and Argar proceed to ask providers to “adjust your offer making strategies to ensure there is no risk of your being oversubscribed for medicine and dentistry in 2022-23 and beyond. We understand you will have different approaches to your admissions decisions, however we would encourage you to utilise methods such as taking a staggered approach to offer-making, offering no more than 100% of your intake target in the first instance and then filling unfilled places through reserve lists and/or clearing.”

The Russell Group has suggested that in restricting numbers, the government is undermining its own ambition to boost the number of NHS doctors.

“We are disappointed the government has chosen not to increase the cap on medical and dentistry places in 2022 to accommodate deferrals from 2021 as ultimately it will limit the choice and opportunities for students applying this year,” said a spokesperson.

“Despite the best efforts of universities to accommodate additional students last year, some deferrals were necessary given the unexpected increase in students qualifying for places with the move to teacher-assessed grades.

“Rather than restricting the ability of students applying this year to train as doctors and dentists, the Government could support its long-term ambition to increase the number of doctors in the NHS by expanding and properly funding the number of training places available. The additional funding provided to support the ongoing costs of training those extra medical students taken on in the last two years, while welcome, falls short of what is required to cover all five years of high-quality teaching and learning. The spending review is an opportunity for Government to consider how it can better support the ongoing costs of training these students.”


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