June 20, 2024

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Most UK medical students struggle to afford essentials, survey finds | Medicine

Medical students are having to stop spending on essentials such as food, clothing and heating because of “astronomical” debts, a “broken” student finance system and a spiralling cost of living crisis, a survey has suggested.

Six in 10 UK medical students report cutting or ceasing spending on necessities, according to a British Medical Association (BMA) poll. Many are questioning their decision to go into medicine and some are considering quitting before they qualify.

The exodus could exacerbate the workforce crisis engulfing the NHS, which is already short of thousands of doctors.

More than half (53.6%) of UK medical students say they have to work during term time to pay their bills, feed themselves and keep themselves warm, the survey found, with 73.1% of those saying this adversely affects their studying.

The BMA is urging ministers to reform the means-testing process for the NHS bursary and increase the allowance given to eligible students.

The union argues that the poorest students are at a disadvantage, which could be jeopardising their future careers in the health service, meaning there is a risk the NHS will lose some of its much-needed workforce in the years to come.

Its survey of 1,119 medical students across the UK found that 61.8% of students reported having to cut down on essentials such as food, heating and clothing, while almost one in 25 students reported accessing food banks.

Students who get an NHS bursary said it would cover just 30% of their predicted expenditure.

Omolara Akinnawonu, a co-chair of the BMA medical students committee, described the student finance system as “broken and in urgent need of reform”. She said: “Before even entering a depleted and deflated NHS workforce, medical students are working themselves to exhaustion. This is negatively affecting their studies and leaving them questioning their future careers as doctors.

“The NHS bursary in particular is failing students from lower-income backgrounds, forcing them to work long hours on top of their studies and clinical placements in the NHS just to make ends meet.”

She continued: “This is no way to train our future doctors. We have a mental health emergency in universities that is about to implode as inflation skyrockets and the cost of living spirals out of control.”

“Meanwhile, medical students, saddled with astronomical student debts, in some cases totalling up to £100,000, are questioning their future in the NHS and whether the financial and emotional struggle will be worth it.

“With the NHS facing an unprecedented workforce crisis, and short of more than 8,000 doctors in England alone, the government must urgently review the funding for medical students and provide the support that is needed, or risk losing talented future doctors even as it invests the funding needed to train them.”

Student doctors and dentists in England can apply for a non-means-tested grant of £1,000 per academic year, a tuition fee contribution, and a means-tested bursary based on their household income.

According to the NHS Business Services Authority website, the rates for full-time students are up to £2,207 if students live with their parents, £3,191 if they are studying in London and £2,643 if they are studying outside London.

The BMA said medical students in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland faced similar challenges and its committees would be pursuing change with their respective governments. BMA Wales has recently succeeded in persuading the Welsh government to review the NHS bursary.

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting medical students in England across all years of study and are keeping funding arrangements for all healthcare students under review. Where a student is struggling financially and is eligible for the NHS bursary, extra funding is available where they may be able to claim between £100 and £3,000, as well as wider government support which is in place for vulnerable people and individuals on low incomes, including students.”