Flexible Healthcare Professional to Doctor Training Plans Confirmed 

Tim Locke

February 10, 2020

Some experienced healthcare professionals, like pharmacists or physiotherapists, could re-train as doctors by taking shorter courses, the Government has confirmed.

The scheme is being proposed to help tackle the country's doctor shortage.

However, the British Medical Association (BMA) warned it could compromise patient care.

The move also proved unpopular with our readers in a Medscape UK poll.

Brexit Bonus?

Under EU rules, doctor training takes at least 5 years and 5500 hours of training.

A news release from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that could change now Brexit has happened: "Under the potential new system, a physiotherapist who has been in the job for 10 years could complete training based on their experience and qualifications, rather than fixed time-frames."

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: "Without being bound by EU regulations, we can focus on ensuring our workforce has the necessary training which is best suited to them and their experience, without ever compromising on our high standards of care or on patient safety. The plans we are setting out today mean that we can retrain healthcare workers and get them back to the frontline faster. This is good for patients, and good for our NHS."

Chief People Officer for the NHS in England, Prerana Issar, talked about the scheme "cutting unnecessary red tape, while keeping and strengthening essential safety standards".

'Poorer Standards of Care'

BMA Council Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: "We are absolutely clear that there is no safe substitute for the current 5 year undergraduate or 4 year graduate entry medical curriculum for those students wanting to become our doctors of the future."

He continued: "The Government say that leaving the EU means we can train doctors more quickly. We believe that training doctors in less time than we do now will compromise their education and reduce the quality and comprehensiveness of patient care.

"The BMA will work with the Government to reduce the impact of Brexit on our health services but it is vital that whoever is providing treatment as a medical professional has the right knowledge, skillset, and experience so that citizens of the UK do not receive poorer standards of care compared to those in other European nations."

Medscape UK Poll Results

Medscape UK previewed the announcement on 4th February and launched an online poll of readers. By February 9th, before the official announcement, there were 753 responses from UK doctors and other healthcare professionals, including medical students.

Overall, across all professionals, 72% said 3 years was not enough time to retrain as a doctor, 19% believed it was, and 9% weren't sure.

Among doctors only, the 'no' vote was stronger at 89%, with 7% saying yes, and 4% not sure.

Among other health professionals excluding doctors, the vote was more split, with the 'yes' vote at 42%, 39% saying no, and 19% not sure.

We asked those who were pharmacists or paramedics who had retrained as a doctor whether a 3 year conversion course would have worked for them. Of this group, 78% said it would have, 21% said not.

Among healthcare professionals excluding doctors, 71% thought enough people would want to do this to make it worthwhile to run specific conversion courses. Twelve percent said no, 17% weren't sure.

We asked whether previous paramedic/pharmaceutical training and expertise was sufficient grounding to compensate for the reduced time at medical school.

Among healthcare professionals excluding doctors, 65% thought it was, 23% said not, and 12% weren't sure.

However, doctors very much disagreed, with 78% saying it wasn't enough, 13% saying it was, and 9% not sure.

Improved Care?

We also asked if readers thought that previous paramedic/pharmaceutical training and expertise might in some ways actually improve overall quality of care.

Among healthcare professionals excluding doctors, 83% thought it could, 8% said not, and 9% weren't sure.

Doctors were more evenly split on this question with 38% agreeing the experience might be beneficial, 42% saying not, and 20% not sure.

The Government proposals suggest 10 years of health care experience before doctor conversion training. Among doctors, 68% agreed a minimum level of working experience was necessary, 13% said not, and 19% weren't sure.

Among healthcare professionals excluding doctors, 82% agreed, 12% disagreed, and 6% weren't sure.

Most doctors (94%) believed it would be better to take measures to retain existing doctors rather than introduce fast-track conversion courses.

'Ridiculous Idea'

We also asked for other comments on the plans. Among the comments from doctors:

  • There are no easy shortcuts.

  • No short cut for safety.

  • This is a ridiculous idea.

  • This is one of the most insane ideas aimed unintentionally at de-incentivising new entries to medical profession, looking at only short-term doubtful benefit.

  • Very bad idea, career creep in this way is already demoralising medics and adding to their work pressures by being asked to supervise these allied health professionals.

  • Good doctors are developed as a result of experience and exposure to patients under skilled supervision. This takes time.

  • The modernised abbreviated medical school curricula already have produced a generation of doctors poorly equipped to fully understand the normal functioning of the body, the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms of disease and the science behind drug treatments and guidelines. Any shortening of training will eventually result in poorer care and outcomes.

However, among some healthcare professionals, different views emerged:

  • There will always be opposition to such exciting and positive initiatives from the medical profession. There are many examples of where non-clinical staff now carry out procedures previously in the clinical domain. There has always been opposition and not just because the incumbent personnel have stated a potential for decreasing quality. I am in absolutely no doubt that a person who is, for example, a fully qualified biomedical scientist would have no problem in converting to a medical doctor by taking a suitable fast-track course.

  • I am a pharmacist prescriber with 10 years of experience. I teach physical assessment and history-taking skills. I feel that my experience makes up for 12 month reduction on a taught programme.

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