Medical students are having to cut their spending on essentials such as food, clothing and heating as they struggle with costs during their courses, a survey has suggested.

The British Medical Association (BMA) is urging the Government to reform the means-testing process for the NHS bursary and increase the allowance given to eligible students.

The union has argued that the poorest students are at a disadvantage which could be jeopardising their future careers in the health service – meaning there is a risk the NHS will lose some of its much-needed workforce in the years to come.

Its survey of 1,119 medical students across the UK found that 61.8% of students reported having to cut down on essentials like food, heating and clothing, while almost one in 25 students reported accessing food banks.

More than half (53.6%) of students said they worked during term-time, with 73.1% of those people saying it negatively affected their studies.

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Students who get an NHS bursary said it would cover just 30% of their predicted expenditure.

The survey also found that students who received free school meals were less likely to receive financial help from their parents than non-recipients.

Omolara Akinawonnu, BMA medical students committee co-chair, described the student finance system as “broken and in urgent need of reform”.

She said: “Before even entering a depleted and deflated NHS workforce, medical students are working themselves to exhaustion. This is negatively affecting their studies and leaving them questioning their future careers as doctors.

“The NHS bursary, in particular, is failing students from lower income backgrounds, forcing them to work long hours on top of their studies and clinical placements in the NHS just to make ends meet.”

She said medical students were being “saddled with astronomical student debts, in some cases totalling up to £100,000” and were “questioning their future in the NHS and whether the financial and emotional struggle will be worth it”.

She added: “With the NHS facing an unprecedented workforce crisis, and short of more than 8,000 doctors in England alone, the Government must urgently review the funding for medical students and provide the support that is needed, or risk losing talented future doctors even as it invests the funding needed to train them.”

Student doctors and dentists in England can apply for a non-means tested grant of £1,000 per academic year, tuition fee contribution, and a means-tested bursary based on their household income.

According to the NHS Business Services Authority website, the rates for full-time students are up to £2,207 if the student is living with parents, £3,191 if they are studying in London and £2,643 if they are studying outside London.

The BMA said medical students in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland face similar challenges and their committees will be pursuing change with their respective governments.

The Government said it is keeping funding arrangements for all healthcare students “under review”.

A spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting medical students in England across all years of study and are keeping funding arrangements for all healthcare students under review.

“Where a student is struggling financially and is eligible for the NHS Bursary, extra funding is available where they may be able to claim between £100 and £3,000, as well as wider government support which is in place for vulnerable people and individuals on low incomes, including students.”