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Why more students will be able to study at Sunderland’s medical school

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Published on 17 May 2024

University of Sunderland School of Medicine students
University of Sunderland School of Medicine students

Extra medical school places have been announced for the University of Sunderland as part of the government’s latest step to deliver the future workforce the NHS requires. 

Today (Wednesday 15 May), the Department of Health and Social Care announced it is allocating 17 places in the academic year 2025-2026 to the University of Sunderland’s School of Medicine.

Last year, the NHS set out its Long Term Workforce Plan, backed by more than £2.4 billion in government funding. It outlines how the NHS will recruit and retain hundreds of thousands more staff over the next 15 years - delivering the biggest training expansion in the health service’s history.  

One of the government’s key commitments is doubling the number of medical school places in England to 15,000 by 2031 and levelling up the geographic training of places to help tackle unequal access to services.  

In the next step to deliver this commitment, the Office for Students (OfS) has now allocated 350 places in the 2025 to 2026 academic year to medical schools across the country – including Sunderland – targeted to support under-doctored areas.

Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, Sir David Bell, welcomes the additional 17 places but admits the allocation falls short of ambitions. 

Sir David said: “I am very pleased that we will be able to offer an additional 17 students the opportunity to study at our medical school from the autumn of 2025. 

“We have significant success to date in demonstrating academic excellence in, at the same time as widening access to, medical education.

“It must be said though that today’s announcement falls well short of the government’s pledge to double the number of medical school places nationally. Equally, we remain committed to further growth in our medical school, even if it falls to a future government to make the money available for us to do so."

The news comes just a month after the University’s School of Medicine was granted ‘official’ status by the General Medical Council (GMC).

At a meeting in April, the GMC agreed to add the University to the list of bodies able to award UK primary medical qualifications.

The move is the culmination of years of hard work by staff and students following the first announcement that the University would be opening a medical school back in 2018.

Since then, the School, which welcomed its first medical students in September 2019, has been under the scrutiny of the GMC’s rigorous testing procedures, ensuring it reaches the highest standards.

Sunderland was one of only five new medical schools announced in 2018 in a bid to address the regional imbalance of medical education places across England and to widen access to ensure the profession reflected the communities it serves.

Since then, it has grown in size and reputation, opening an Anatomy Centre in early 2022 and moving into the Murray Health building this year. The University’s capital plan also includes around £30 million for further medical and health-related developments.

Professor Scott Wilkes, Head of the School of Medicine at the University of Sunderland, said: “I’ve been privileged to lead the most exciting project of my life, to establish the medical school in Sunderland.

“Over the last seven years, I’ve been supported by some wonderful people and I’m immensely proud of the team, which is in excess of 150 staff from across the University, hospital trusts and GP practices.

“For me, the absolute delight is in the wider benefit of being a significant contributor to the health and wealth of Sunderland and the wider north-east.”

The University is now the only one in the region which offers a full suite of health-related courses, including paramedic and other health-related sciences, nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy.

The first cohort of new doctors will graduate at the Stadium of Light this summer.