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Medical education budgets diverted to run NHS

The British Medical Association has accused the UK Department of Health of a lack of transparency over how it spends money set aside for medical education programmes for student doctors.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has accused the Department of Health of a lack of transparency over how it spends money set aside for medical education programmes for student doctors.

Hospitals which conduct medical education programmes presently attain additional funding through the SIFT mechanism (Service Increment for Teaching).

The BMA used the Freedom of Information Act and had its Medical Academic Staff Committee ask 33 teaching hospitals in England to account in detail SIFT expenditure over the last five years.

Of the 23 that responded, ten were unable to account for how their SIFT funding had been spent. Some reported that SIFT funding was swallowed up by the trust's overall budget and was not recorded seperately. Few trusts had strict auditing structures to track the spend of SIFT funding.

The BMA said it was concerned that SIFT funding is being used to pay for deficits at the end of the fiscal year and is calling for the money for medical education to be protected, as well as system to be put in place to account for the spending.

Professor Michael Rees, chairman of the BMA Medical Academic Staff Committee, said in a statement: "Medical students represent the future of the NHS. It is highly worrying that trusts appear to be raiding money intended for education in order to get out of financial difficulty. The need for decent funding has become even more important in recent years, in which numbers of medical students have grown, and numbers of academic staff to teach them have fallen."

Emily Rigby, chair of the BMA Medical Students Committee, added: "Unless it is strictly ringfenced, money that's supposed to be spent on educating the next generation of doctors will disappear into the NHS melting pot. Trusts need to be far more accountable."

The full BMA report can be accessed by clicking on the following link: http://www.bma.org.uk/ap.nsf/Content/SIFTfunding

16th May 2007

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