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Undergraduate Courses

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 10 February 2009

7. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of provision for teaching of therapeutics and prescribing in medical undergraduate courses. (255401)

The General Medical Council has the statutory responsibility to determine the extent of the knowledge and skill required for the granting of primary medical qualifications in the United Kingdom. The GMC’s document “Tomorrow’s doctors” sets the standards and outcomes for undergraduate medical education. The GMC is currently consulting on the draft of a third edition, which would include a strengthening of the requirements in this area and, consequently, provide the opportunity to address any areas of concern.

Professor Webb of Edinburgh university recently told the Select Committee on Health inquiry into patient safety that the teaching of therapeutics and prescribing had all but disappeared from the undergraduate curriculum. A recent survey of medical students showed that 80 per cent. felt that they were either poorly or very poorly prepared for prescribing by the time they qualified. With drugs becoming more powerful and treatment regimes becoming ever more complex, surely it is important to ensure that medical students are properly equipped. Is there more that the Government can do to ensure that this valuable part of the curriculum is given the priority that it deserves?

I thank my hon. Friend for that. The GMC is currently consulting on the draft of a third edition of “Tomorrow’s doctors”, which, as was noted on 22 January by the Health Committee, of which my hon. Friend is a hard-working member, enshrines the competences drawn up by the safe prescribing working group. Those competences are included in the draft. The consultation concludes on 27 March. The GMC will then consider all the representations received, before publishing the next edition in the summer of 2009. It will be the duty of us all to ensure that all our doctors’ education is safe in its practice.

Does the Minister agree that doctors should look not only at the efficacy of the drugs that they prescribe, but at their cost-effectiveness? Should they perhaps be trained in how to resist the beguiling attentions of the pharmaceutical salesmen who so often visit our GPs’ surgeries?

A strict code of practice governs this issue, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, and it is still a matter for the General Medical Council to look at all aspects of the training and practice of our medical practitioners.

May I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the all-party group on drugs misuse’s report on physical dependence on, and addiction to, over-the-counter and prescription medicines? Does she agree with three of the report’s recommendations—that medical staff should be properly trained to recognise these problems; that they should follow the prescribing guidelines laid down by the Department of Health; and that they should be aware of the withdrawal protocols in cases where people have become physically addicted or dependent?

My hon. Friend raises issues of concern, and I fully accept that we should study them carefully.