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Student debt challenge to social mobility in medicine

Rising levels of medical student debt could derail government plans to increase social mobility in medicine, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.

Responding to the publication of the government's New Opportunities White Paper, medical student leaders warn that despite some positive proposals, ministers must make alleviating the soaring debt levels faced by students their priority if they wish to enhance social mobility into the medical profession.

Louise McMenemy, a member of the BMA's medical students committee and lead on widening participation in medicine, said:

"The White Paper contains a number of positive proposals. Enhancing support to child development schemes and increasing the number of Professional and Development Loans are encouraging announcements. The establishment of a specific Panel to examine access to the professions is also a good step forward, though it is worrying that it appears there will be no representative from the medical profession.

"However, the spectre of debt hangs over the government's entire social mobility agenda. At present medical graduates leave university with £21,000 worth of debt on average, a figure that could rise as high as £37,0001 in the next few years now that variable top up fees have been introduced.

"Students are already relying on their parents, credit cards, overdrafts and loans to get them through university, despite many holding down part-time jobs.

"In view of this worrying situation the BMA remains concerned that talented individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds will either be discouraged or simply unable to pursue a career in medicine because of the spiralling debt burden. This would represent a terrible loss to the NHS and to patients, as well as to the individuals themselves.

"If the government fails to lift the debt burden bearing down on medical students its social mobility agenda will fail."