‘Final year medical students can’t afford to live’: Newcastle woman starts national campaign calling for fairer funding

Newcastle University graduate medical student Eilidh Garrett has launched a campaign demanding the Government raise the support for medical students in the final years.

Eilidh, 25, and others in the same boat around the UK, are highlighting how a big drop in funding as you reach the end of lengthy medical degrees make racking up debt and working multiple jobs an inevitability for less well-off students. She said it is essential that the Government acts to give medical students the same access to financial support as peers taking other healthcare degrees.

At the moment, medical degrees are funded in a unique way. Student Finance England (SFE) provides a means tested maintenance and tuition loan for the first four years of the undergraduate degree of up to £9450. This is similar to most degrees.

Read more: North East GPs fear patients aren’t safe – and demand Government acts to bring in more doctors amid primary care crisis

But in their final years, students must apply for an NHS bursary that provides a tuition fee contribution, a non-means tested grant of £1000 each academic year, and a means tested bursary of up to £3191. For those without parental support, this money does not go very far. Eilidh said she was surviving on around £560 a month to cover bills, housing expenses, fuel and food.

Eilidh said: “I think a lot of people are shocked by the funding situation. It’s so convoluted that many people don’t understand it. But now we are spreading the word out there people are going ‘well that just doesn’t make sense ‘.”

She began the campaign after struggling in the run-up to exams this year and realizing just how bad her cashflow situation was. So this She tweeted something explaining the situation – and this was picked up by a three other students around the country.

In her tweets on the subject, Eilidh added: “I have me. That’s it. Food shops on credit cards. I have been literally sick with worry. This isn’t right – and I want to do more for people that can’t have family support them.” She’s working a job around her full-time uni course, too.

The students have also raised how the financial situation exacerbates the inequalities around encouraging working class people to study medicine. She said: “20% of the UK’s schools produce 80% of medical school applicants. For people going to medical school from those [less affluent] backgrounds, they’ve already overcome the odds just getting in. They are not thinking ‘how am I going to afford my final year’.”

In the little over a week that the campaign’s been going, Eilidh said it had picked up momentum. She said: “We have sent 1,200 letters to MPs so far. We are talking with universities about how they can support us, but at the moment it’s about how we can get the Department of Health to respond. It’s about putting the pressure on. ” She said so far she felt the Government response had been “contradictory”.

The British Medical Association and the Doctor’s Association are both backing the campaign too. The BMA’s Khadija Meghrawi, co-chair of the medical students committee, said funding arrangements were “deeply worrying” and said it was a “failure of the Government”.

She added: “For years, we’ve heard instances of students using food banks, overburdened by debt and exhausted by working long hours alongside studying. No student should have to choose between their degree and making ends meet.”

Adding that the system “must be reviewed”, she said: “ We are a nation in desperate need of more doctors and to grow a medical workforce that is both fit for the future and is reflective of the population that it works to treat, the Government must provide adequate financial support to medical students.”

In a statement a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting medical students in England across all years of study and we are keeping arrangements for all healthcare students under review.” The DHSC has also stressed that the bursary was non-repayable and that hardship funds were available.

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