Professor Scott Wilkes, Head of the University of Sunderland’s School of Medicine, gave evidence at a Health and Social Care Select Committee hearing in Parliament last week.
Chaired by former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the committee is holding an inquiry into ‘Workforce: Recruitment, Training, and Retention’.
This latest hearing explored whether medical education can and should be reformed to help improve the training of future medics.
Professor Wilkes formed part of a panel alongside some of the biggest names in the medical profession, including Professor Roger Kirby, President of the Royal Society of Medicine; Professor Colin Melville, Medical Director and Director of Education and Standards; Dr Latifa Patel, Interim Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA); and Professor Malcolm Reed, Lead Co-Chair of the Medical Schools Council.
While agreeing that there is a need for more doctors, Professor Wilkes highlighted the positive impact Sunderland’s medical school has had and is continuing to have on the city since its first intake of medical students in September 2019.
“We have had a success story in Sunderland,” he said.
“What we’re seeing in the city is the impact of the medical school on health and wealth.
“We’re recruiting local students but we’re also recruiting students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
“What we do know is students generally work where they train or indeed where their families come from, and we’ve certainly seen that siting a medical school in Sunderland is already beginning to have a significant impact on those sorts of metrics.
“We are seeing the investment from the local hospital trust with a brand-new eye hospital; we’re seeing an increase in small/medium enterprise coming into the city; we’re seeing an increase in hotels; we are seeing doctors being attracted into the area into the acute trusts and we’re seeing GPs for the first time putting their hands up to be medical educators.”
Professor Wilkes, who is also a GP in North Tyneside, added applications per place figures at the medical school are “very healthy” and there are a lot of talented UK students with ability to become doctors.
The committee is also looking at whether more medical schools are needed across the UK to help solve some of the workforce issues.
Talking further on the success of Sunderland’s medical school, Professor Wilkes explained: “We took advantage of the infrastructure that already existed at the University, so there is a programme of nursing, pharmacy, paramedics, so there was clinical education there already with mock wards and lab-based work.
“When you add that to the clinical training in years 3, 4 and 5, which were already there in so much that the local education providers and the trusts existed and were indeed delivering for our local medical school, much of the infrastructure was already there.
“The culture within our institution is that the facilities are very much shared and there is a very big focus on inter-professional learning because that is how medicine really works in the real world.”
Professor Wilkes added: “I would like to see investment in other areas of the country because we are experiencing the benefit and impact of that investment in Sunderland.”
During the hearing, Professor Wilkes thanked Jeremy Hunt for his insight in 2016 to start the process to establish five new medical schools in England of which Sunderland is one.
Watch the committee hearing in full here.