Derry medical school aims to ‘future proof’ care provision

Professor Louise Dubras, who is overseeing the NW medical training college project, talks to the Journal’s Sean McLaughlin

Friday, 21st February 2020, 12:26 pm
Professor Louise Dubras, Ulster University.

Derry’s new medical school could open by next year.

The Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS) - which is to be located at Ulster University’s Magee campus - has been dogged by repeated delays and funding problems.

Initially, it was scheduled to open in 2019 but the collapse of the NI Assembly stymied the plan.

However, with the recent restoration of the powersharing administration at Stormont, politicians from across the divide have pinpointed the school as one of the new Executive’s “priorities”.

The “New Decade, New Approach” document, published by the British and Irish governments last month, states: “The executive will expand university provision at Magee in line with commitments made by the previous executive, including through the establishment of a graduate entry medical school.”

The expansion of the university in Derry and the opening of a medical training school in the north west has long been regarded as a catalyst for economic growth in the region.

The only medical school in Northern Ireland at present is located at Queen’s University in Belfast.

About 270 doctors graduate from it each year.

The shortage of doctors is particularly acute in the north west.

The Western Health and Social Care Trust - which serves a region including Derry - spent £27m on temporary doctors, health professionals, nurses and admin staff during the 2017/18 financial year.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ this week, Professor Louise Dubras, Foundation Dean of UU’s School of Medicine, confirmed that the university continues to work with the General Medical Council (GMC), St George’s University of London, local clinicians and partners, towards a revised timeframe of 2021 for the first intake to the Graduate Entry medical degree programme.

She says that, building on UU’s leadership in healthcare and medical research in the city, “we are steadfast in our commitment to establishing a Graduate Entry Medical School in a bid to address the challenges of a healthcare system at breaking point.”

Prof. Dubras revealed that the university’s completed Outline Business Case was submitted to the Department of Health on October 21 last and “we are hopeful that it will be reviewed by the Minister as soon as possible.”

The new school, she says, aims to admit 70 students in its first year of operation - subject to Department of Health approval and successful progression of the MBBS course through the GMC’s quality assurance programme - with a phased increase, over a five-year period, to an annual intake of 100 students.

Prof. Dubras say that students who have an undergraduate degree in any discipline can apply for entry.

In addition to a 2:1 honours degree classification, selection criteria will include performance in the GAMSAT (Graduate Medical School Admissions Test) and a multiple “mini interview” process.

She says the Ulster University medical programme (MBBS) will be quite different from the degree delivered by Queen’s University, Belfast, although the graduates from each medical school will be high quality doctors entering the workplace.

“UU will recruit students who have already completed an undergraduate degree and provide them with four years of intensive, practical medical education,” she says. “Ulster’s MBBS programme will have a problem-based and interdisciplinary learning focus and will enable students to grow the knowledge, skills and behaviours required of new UK medical graduates, as set out in the GMC’s ‘Outcomes for Graduates’.

“Students will benefit from access to significant primary care based experience and practice learning placements across the full range of additional medical specialist subjects. The programme will enable students to develop significant knowledge and appreciation of the interconnectivity between primary, secondary, social and community-based healthcare. The programme will address modern healthcare issues, such as the management of multiple long term conditions, the treatment of mental health conditions, and provision of care to older people.”

UU’s GEMS proposal, says Prof. Dubras, is designed to help address the current health crisis and “future proof” care provision in the Derry region and across NI.

“Health care provision across NI is at breaking point, the impact of which is felt acutely by patients who are having to wait for long periods of time for appointments and operations. The Review of Medical Student Places, undertaken by Professor Keith Gardiner, has clearly demonstrated the pressing need within health and social care in NI.”

In its initial phase of implementation, the medical school is intended to be delivered within the existing campus estate, alongside current medical and healthcare provision.

Prof. Dubras says a well-established network of GP federations and practices have committed to supporting the clinical practice elements of the education and training provision.

“This will provide our medical students with vital experience of learning from General Practitioners, in and from the multi-disciplinary teams that are envisaged to be an essential element of a transformed health service.”

Asked if the GEMS was likely to ‘pave the way’ for other expansions of health related courses at UU Magee, Prof. Dubras said: “UU Magee is already deeply committed to meeting the needs of healthcare in NI through the School of Nursing, ranked 6th in the UK. Last year, we marked a decade of medical research and leadership at C-TRIC, already established at Altnagelvin Hospital. I am already working to deepen and integrate UU’s world leading research expertise in fields such as mental health, stratified medicine and data analytics.”