Med school plan: UU ‘has yet to satisfy’ key criteria, say officials

UU aim to establish the medical school at its Magee campus in Derry.
UU aim to establish the medical school at its Magee campus in Derry.

Ulster University (UU) has yet to satisfy some of the key criteria required to establish a second medical school in N.I., the Department of Health has revealed.

UU has applied to the General Medical Council (GMC) to train doctors in the north west and its medical school proposal, which includes a graduate entry focus, is currently being considered by N. Ireland health chiefs.

UU aims to have 60-80 medical students at its Magee campus in Derry by September, 2019.

However, the Department of Health says any proposal with significant long-term financial implications must be rigorously assessed, particularly at a time of increasing funding pressures across the public sector.

“This will include, as a priority matter, the need to clearly demonstrate need and value for money,” said a spokesperson for the Department. “Up to this point, Ulster University, in terms of its desire to establish a Graduate Entry Medical School, has yet to satisfy either of these criteria.”

Derry MP Elisha McCallion recently said the project should not be “delayed or derailed” by what she called “civil service bureaucracy.”

The Sinn Fein politician has been urging NI health chiefs to enable UU to set the required student numbers in time for the university admissions deadline.

She said all the steps required by the university to move forward with the medical school were now in place.

However, this week’s statement from the Department appears to suggest otherwise, with officials also revealing that it commissioned a review in 2017 to determine the optimum number of medical students for Northern Ireland’s future healthcare needs.

“Ulster University is represented on the review team,” added a spokesperson. “ The review is proceeding well and is on course to produce its report – as planned - by the end of June 2018.”

It’s also understood that any final business case from UU will also require Ministerial/Executive approval as the implications are “cross-cutting, with significant financial implications for the Northern Ireland budget.”

However, the continued absence of an Executive at Stormont could, of course, result in further delays.

Elisha McCallion says the latest correspondence from the Department only serves to raise further obstacles.

“First, it was the claim that need was not proven and they required a further study into the need for doctors and other medical staff in the north. We argued that the case for need had already been met in the business case but, if they persisted with another study, it should be done quickly so as the planning for the medical school needn’t be impacted.

“Now, a new obstacle, value for money, has been put forward. We and Ulster University have long argued that a relatively small investment, in comparison to the benefits for Derry and the wider north west by Magee expansion, was value for money. We also argue that value for money is only one consideration when allocating funding. Addressing regional disparity is another and this can be given a higher priority. In addition, this investment should be seen as part of the roll out of Bengoa Reforms in transforming the Health Service and making it fit for purpose.

“Fifty years on we must ensure that Magee is not denied again”, said the Foyle MP.