Ulster University has said it is committed to bringing over 2,000 additional students to Derry through the City Deal as part of its Magee expansion plans.
The assurance comes amid growing concerns that the proposed Medical School, to train doctors here, could be further delayed unless action is taken promptly at Central Government level.
The Department of Health (DoH) told the ‘Journal’ that while it has been assisting the University on developing its Business Case proposal for the graduate entry medical school for 18 months now, there remained “a number issues to be addressed.”
The business case for Magee has to demonstrate a clear need for a Medical School in the north west, rather than new resources going to the existing medical training facility at Queen’s. Ulster University has insisted that it would not be in competition and earlier this year both universities announced an agreement to work together on medical school provision after a separate Medical School Places Review advocated 100 additional places for student doctors each year in Northern Ireland and a raft of other measures.
DoH said it had issued detailed suggestions to enhance the quality of Ulster University’s Outline Business Case for the Magee Medical School, including queries on affordability calculations; further articulation of the beneficial impact of increased placements in the north west; and “revision of timeframes to make them more realistic.”
A spokesman for the Department - which is led by Permanent Secretary, Richard Pengelly in the absence of an Executive Minister - also stressed that as far as it was concerned, this project “should be distinguished from any process to consider the commissioning of additional medical places in NI.”
The Department also said it will be for ministers to decide on this. “Expansion of medical student numbers represents a significant long-term, strategic and cross cutting issue with major financial implications that would fall to Executive Ministers. Affordability and long-term value for money will have to be fully assessed.”
The Derry facility, if approved, will offer Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery Medical Degrees to graduates. It had planned its first intake of 60 students for September, 2019, rising year-on-year to an annual intake of 120 by 2024. Because it has not been signed off however the opening has been delayed.
The Department for the Economy (DfC) - headed by Permanent Secretary Noel Lavery - meanwhile, said it has been liaising with the Department of Health on the proposal for a Medical School in Derry.
Ulster University has said establishing a Graduate Entry Medical School locally will “address the challenges of a healthcare system at breaking point”.
A spokesman said that it is currently working with its partners to deal with any remaining clarifications sought by government Departments “promptly,” adding: “Our Foundation Dean is based in the city and is continuing to collaborate with clinical partners to develop the curriculum alongside working towards General Medical Council accreditation.
“We stand ready to educate capable, caring, professional future doctors for local healthcare, as soon as the political infrastructure resumes and enables a decision on funding.”
The University also said that developing the Magee Campus was a priority, ‘reflected in our significant investments in teaching, student experience and globally significant research on campus.’
“The Ulster University City Deal proposals will drive innovation in personalised medicine, cognitive analytics, robotics and automation, leading to both new research posts and opportunities for more than 2,000 additional students.”
Latest figures show that Magee had around 4,300 students, by far the smallest intake of any of the large cities across Ireland.
The Dept. for Economy said it has requested an update from U.U.on its views “in relation to the previous proposal for expansion in Magee and the University’s presence in Derry.”