Confirmation that Ulster University’s planned Medical School at Magee will now not be in a position to open next year, has been met with bitter disappointment.
However, in a major milestone for the Graduate Entry Medical School, it has now been confirmed that those spearheading the project have agreed with St. George’s, University of London, that its prestigious medical curriculum is to be taught at the doctor training school in Derry once it does open.
The four years medical degree will help to address the shortage of doctors across the north, particularly in the west.
Ulster University Vice-Chancellor Prof. Paddy Nixon said the agreed curriculum - one of the main building blocks in establishing the school - was “a major step forward.”
However, the university said the Department of Health had confirmed that any decision on funding for the Medical School can only be made by ministers and, therefore, it is not in a position to recruit students for its planned 2019 intake.
Prof. Nixon said that with health care provision across Northern Ireland at “breaking point,” the absence of government decision making “is a source of deep frustration.”
“This is time lost in educating the doctors we urgently need in our hospitals,” he said.
SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan agreed. He said: “This setback is extremely disappointing and frustrating but it is not at all surprising. Almost a year ago, I was criticised for pointing out that the progress of the North West Medical School would be hampered by the lack of government here. Sadly, since that time, the DUP and Sinn Fein have failed to form a government and, in my opinion, are failing to make a meaningful effort to do so.
“The need for this project is undeniable and it is urgent. This year I anticipate that the locum bill for the Western Trust area will exceed £20m. This is directly attributable to the difficulty we have in attracting doctors who have been trained elsewhere to come here and settle here. The establishment of a medical school would solve this worsening situation.”
Foyle Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion also said the delay was “hugely disappointing.”
Mrs McCallion, who is in talks with the Irish Government over potential funding, and who is also seeking a meeting with the Head of the NI Civil Service, said: “The university has done all it can to advance this project and the onus is clearly now on the Department of Health to play its part.
“I don’t believe the lack of an Executive should be a barrier . We would all prefer if power-sharing was restored but unfortunately the DUP are still preventing that by refusing to share power on the basis of equality. Nevertheless, the Medical School is entirely in line with the transformation of health endorsed by the last Executive and, therefore, with the required will, the Department of Health can and should proceed as planned.”