"Medical breakthroughs are often based on collaborative work between departments, or the sharing of knowledge and expertise across the sciences - for instance in the development of MRI scanners. If science department closures continue, research and development in medicine will be under threat."
Closures or downsizing of science departments has intensified since the introduction of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) - the funding system for higher education - which has withdrawn or reduced funding for all but the highest rated science departments. In the past decade ten university chemistry courses have closed, and since 1997 the number of chemistry students has fallen from 7,490 to 5,735.
The RAE system also puts strain on university teaching, since funding is awarded solely on the basis of a department's research output - forcing academics to focus less and less of their time on teaching students.
The BMA is supporting an Early Day Motion in the UK parliament deploring science department closures, and calling on the Government to review the RAE as a matter of urgency.
Professor Rees added :
"It is a bleak day for universities and students alike to see science subjects being withdrawn wholesale.
"Medicine in particular relies on integrated work across the sciences. If this trend of closures continues, it will cut off access to the range of knowledge vital for groundbreaking medical research.
"This short-sighted approach is not only causing problems now, but what of the future of science and medicine? Chemistry A-level is still a requirement for most medical schools. Without university chemistry departments, who will train the secondary school teachers of tomorrow? Is science to become a rare option in the classroom?
"If the UK is to stay a world leader in medicine, cutting university departments is not the way to do it. The Government must take action now."