Local people ‘will die’ without more doctors

Retired GP and Aont� Colr. Anne McCloskey. DER3915MC071
Retired GP and Aont� Colr. Anne McCloskey. DER3915MC071

A recently retired Derry GP has warned that people in Derry and Strabane will die as there will not be enough doctors to treat them if more medical students are not trained and retained here.

Aontú Councillor Anne McCloskey delivered the stark warning in the Guildhall recently as councillors spoke of how critical the proposed medical school at Ulster University’s Magee campus is for the north west.

Sinn Fein councillor Sandra Duffy.

Sinn Fein councillor Sandra Duffy.

Speaking after a local delegation met with senior civil servants about the facility, Colr. McCloskey said that, like herself, a number of other local GPs were also now poised to retire and there was an urgent need for the medical school to help replace them.

Following a motion tabled by Sinn Féin Councillor Sandra Duffy, with an amendment by SDLP Colr. Sinead McLaughlin, the Council is now calling on the Department of Health (DoH) and the Head of the NI Civil Service David Sterling to sign off on the Graduate Entry Medical School at Magee.

A further amendment by Colr. McCloskey resulted in the Council also calling on all MLAs to “urgently reconvene” to deliver the School. Colr. McCloskey said: “I’m not being in any way sensationalist or melodramatic, but what I will say is that people in Derry City & Strabane District are going to die unless something is done to get GPs who are trained in this area and who stay in this area.”

Colr. Duffy said: “The demand for a Graduate Entry Medical School at Magee has united all parties in this Council Chamber. There is a united voice coming from this city.”

Colr. Duffy said the doctor training facility will reduce reliance and spend on locums, assist continued growth of Magee and help address wider economic issues. David Sterling had agreed to additional resources to assist with the business case, she said, while Richard Pengelly [Permanent Secretary at Health Dept.] had “clearly stated” it was not necessary to have Ministerial sign off, “so in our view there is no reason why this should not be given the go ahead”.

Colr. McCloskey said that Mr Pengelly had repeatedly stated this scenario was dependent on a specific set of circumstances and was unlikely to happen. “I started work as a young doctor in Derry and I have watched the decimation of GP services across the Western Trust and, indeed, throughout the north.” she said. “A lot of the GPs in Derry are my age or thereabouts and we are going to get a mass of retirements with no-one to replace them. It is a fact that, if people train, particularly at post graduate level, in an area they are much more likely to stay in that area and contribute their talents to that community. It is the single most important issue facing this city and district.”

SDLP Colr. Sinead McLaughlin said it was regrettable that the project did not have Ministerial or Executive sign off before the Assembly was collapsed, something her party had been demanding in the Council and the Assembly.

Colr. Duffy said that, prior to the Assembly collapsing, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill and the University had been working on progressing the medical school project.

Independent Colr. Paul Gallagher said there had been a “brain drain” from the city and numerous courses had been moved away from Magee to other campuses.

PBP Colr. Eamonn McCann said the project was, indeed, vital in terms of bringing employment and medical professionals to the area.

He also suggested that it was, perhaps, time to support an independent university, referring to “false dawns” with regards to expanding Magee.

A DoH spokesperson said it had been assisting Ulster University with its plans for the medical school for 18 months and there remained “issues to be addressed”, stressing that completion of the business case should be distinguished from any process to consider the commissioning of additional medical places in NI. The Department said it was developing its response to the recommendations in the Review of Medical Student Places in NI report which requires them to look at all options “with particular consideration of value for money and affordability for health and social care.”

The spokesperson added: “It remains the case that budgets are under pressure in health and across the public sector. Unless this situation alters, it is believed that Ministerial decisions will be required to prioritise medical training ahead of other policy and funding areas.”