Medic Forward Update: Doing “More harm than good”

Cardiff University School of Medicine could be set to lose millions of pounds worth of funding, due to a proposed restructure under the MEDIC Forward Scheme.

As a result of the widely-criticised plans, named MEDIC Forward, senior female staff have School’s been “targeted” according the British Medical Association (BMA). This is set to have detrimental effects upon the School of Medicine’s diversity requirements, and could result in a substantial loss of funding.

The news comes amid widespread backlash against the proposals, with staff citing a total loss of faith in both the School of Medicine and the University’s Executive Board as a result.

MEDIC Forward has been described by the University as an initiative allowing the School of Medicine to “build upon existing success” and “embrace positive change”. However, staff have spoken out to Gair Rhydd against the “unacceptable” consequences of this change, causing “loyalties and commitment” within research departments to be broken.

“People need to be aware of what has happened” one staff member warned Gair Rhydd, “to ensure that this does not happen again”.

It has now been revealed that in accordance to the School’s current plans, senior female staff will be put at a major disadvantage in MEDIC Forward’s new criteria used to assess its members. According to the Deputy Chair Women in Academic Medicine for BMA, Dr Marcia Schofield, this can be explained “as many [female] clinical academics also do NHS work and are therefore less than full time”.

Talking to Gair Rhydd Schofield said: “We are concerned that the MEDIC Forward process appears to be targeting areas that many of the few senior female clinical academics work in.”

The Medical Academic Staff Committee (MASC) at the BMA has also spoken out against MEDIC Forward, as co-chair Michael Rees told Gair Rhydd: “We remain very concerned about the gender issues in relation to MEDIC Forward and having discussed this within MASC we feel the Medical School has to significantly change its approach to gender and age issues”.

Currently Cardiff University School of Medicine holds a Bronze level in the diversity charter Athena SWAN, which aims to support female staff and address the under representation of women in STEMM subjects.

However, in an all school staff briefing given by the Dean of Medicine Professor John Bligh, it was stated that if a Silver level is not reached by 2016 then the school stands to lose £20.7 million a year in research funding.

In the meeting it was explained that “from 2016, the ability to apply for NIHR funding, and possibly RCUK funding in the future will depend on holding a Silver award. We stand to lose £20.7 M a year in research funding if we do not attain Silver.”

The School is currently aiming to renew its Bronze level in April 2016.

Despite the statements made by the BMA, the School’s lack of progress within the diversity charter has been refuted by the University, who stated that a comprehensive Equality Impact Assessment has been conducted for the restructuring of the school and indicated that there will be “no unlawful discrimination against any protected group”.

A spokesperson elaborated that: “The full impact assessment was reviewed by a senior member of the Equality and Diversity Committee”.

These current allegations do not stand alone in criticising MEDIC Forward. In a larger series of complaints against the School of Medicine, staff have also spoken out against the way in which the consultation process was carried out.

Last summer, investigations conducted by former Gair Rhydd editor Michael O’Connell-Davidson revealed that letters had been sent out to 69 members of staff stating that their positions were “at risk”, and that 12 major research projects were to be potentially disinvested from.

Now, following the closure of this consultation phase after a month’s delay, Bligh has stated that “effective communication alongside openness and transparency has been an integral part of the project, providing everyone with the opportunity to input into the process”.

He then asserted that the School of Medicine has consulted extensively on the proposals and that “at every stage staff, students, stakeholders, and trade unions have been given the opportunity to express their views and contribute fully to the process.”

However, this has been heavily contested by staff within the School who state that they received no communication from senior management.

One researcher who wished to remain anonymous explained: “I am disgusted by John Bligh’s comments that students have been involved in the process of MEDIC Forward, not once have I been spoken to other than by direct and affected supervisors”

Another student confirmed a lack of transparency within the school: “We have barely been consulted during the consultation period and I am outraged by John Bligh’s comments.

“Medic Forward appears to have done far more damage than good, to most of us anyway. As students we have not been involved at all in the process.”

Such testimonies contradict statements released by the University and Council Union (UCU) describing the consultation as “meaningful” and “dedicated”.

Both the UCU and the Students’ Union VP Heath Katey Beggan have stated that communications between students and staff have improved.

Despite this, questions surrounding the lack of clarity during the consultation process have been reinforced by the results of a staff survey within the School of Medicine.

Results have shown that only 16 per cent of staff displaying a positive attitude towards decision-making processes in the University.

The staff survey for the School of Medicine is allegedly said to have one of the worst results of all schools in the University.

Statistics have shown that only 23 per cent of those asked believed that major change was managed effectively within the school.

Attitudes towards senior staff and executives at the University also fared badly, with a mere 19 per cent of staff suggesting they hold a positive attitude towards the University Executive Board.

As a result, it has been suggested by a member of staff that MEDIC Forward has had a devastating effect upon the School of Medicine, with “morale now at rock bottom”.

During the summer a Freedom of Information request was sent to the School of Medicine by O’Connell-Davidson in an attempt to reveal the criteria for MEDIC Forward’s assessment and state why some departments were considered “unsustainable”.

Although the school acknowledged that there was a “public interest” in disclosing information to “help inform public debate”, they were unable to disclose the selection criteria for multiple reasons including the protection of personal and commercial information.

A meeting will now take place with the University Council to finalise the consultation on Wednesday October 14th.