The leader of the UK's deans of medical schools has said a change in the rules on how many places students can apply to is behind an apparent drop in applications.

The British Medical Association claimed last week that there had been a 20 per cent drop in Universities and Colleges Admissions Service applications over three years, from 11,720 in 1996 to 9,306 in 1999.

It said the fall could be linked to fewer students coming forward from poor backgrounds because of fears about student debt.

But Michael Powell, chair of the council of heads of medical schools, told HSJ the statistics could be 'wholly accounted for' by a change in the rules relating to the number of applications each student could make.

He said: 'Most of the reduction in applications last year was down to a reduction from five to four in the number of applications to medical school allowed per applicant.'