Child health teacher numbers at worrying levels

Concerns over the future of children's health care in the UK are being raised as new research shows the numbers of clinical teachers in this field have dropped dramatically in recent years.

In a five-year period up to April 2003, there has been a 26% reduction in the number of lecturers and a 7.2% fall in clinical academic staff overall working in this area, according to a survey published this week in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

A team from Leeds General Infirmary's Academic Department of Paediatrics surveyed all 24 university departments of paediatrics where undergraduates are taught which included a postgraduate institute of paediatrics.

The team found, from a full response rate, that there had been 'worrying decline' in numbers. There were now 312.8 established full-time equivalent academic clinical staff at professor, reader, senior lecturer, or lecturer level in the 24 centres ? 24.35 less than five years before ? and 28 fewer lecturer posts.

Teaching undergraduate medical students has been a traditional role for paediatricians, both academic and non-academic, and since 1997, there has been a 60% increase in the number of medical students in England at the same time as clinical lecturer numbers have been falling.

The report says: 'There remains serious concern about the future of academic paediatrics in the UK. It is inevitable that with the reduction in number of lecturers and senior lecturers, and the marked increase in students, teaching quality will deteriorate.'

Undergraduate teaching was likely to become increasingly stretched because of the fall in lecturer numbers, it adds, and put pressure on existing lecturers. Their growing workload was likely to put off younger people from deciding to join academic paediatrics, so the problem was likely to get worse over the next five years.

The authors conclude that lecturer numbers should continue to be monitored and recruitment of the next generation of academics should start quickly.

In an accompanying editorial, Professor John Savill of the University of Edinburgh, says: 'Paediatrics, a discipline championed in the UK, faces a monotonous future bereft of innovation and improvement. Levene and Olver [authors] present alarming data on staffing changes in UK academic paediatrics.'

Contacts: Professor Malcolm Levene, Academic Department of Paediatrics, Leeds General Infirmary, Leeds, UK Tel: +44 (0)113 392 3905 Email: [email protected]

Professor John Savill, University of Edinburgh, Vice Principal's Office, Edinburgh, UK Tel: +44 (0)131 650 3181 Email: [email protected]

Click here to view the full paper and Click here to view the editorial

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