Video: £60m for Medical School at Magee College in Derry but MP wants 10,000 students and full university status

The guarantee of £60m to build and staff a new medical School has been warmly welcomed in Derry this week but the expansion of student numbers at Magee remains a key demand.

Friday, 17th January 2020, 5:13 pm

The announcement that the money has been ring-fenced was hailed by Foyle MP Colum Eastwood in the House of Commons yesterday.

But the SDLP leader said the student body at Magee must also be increased to 10,000 to give Derry the university status it has been fighting for for over half a century.

“Can I, in particular, welcome the commitment to the Graduate Entry Medical School at Magee in my constituency of Foyle?” he said, before raising student numbers.

Ulster Universitys vision for future Magee expansion, with the indicative site for the Medical School running parallel to the riverfront, where the Council offices are located. (Image: Ulster University)

He continued: “One of the other commitments in the deal is to extend and expand Magee university to 10,000 students. We’ve been waiting since 1965 to see that actually achieved. Will the Secretary of State continue to work with the Irish Government and our newly established Executive to finally, once and for all, see a full size university in Derry?” he asked.

The Secretary of State Julian Smith replied: “I’m glad my honourable friend is pleased with the work he campaigned so hard for, of the £45m of ring-fenced capital for the Derry medical school and that is a great news story for Derry.”

Mr. Smith was speaking during what was his first statement since the Northern Ireland Office announced on Wednesday it was ring-fencing £60m of capital and resource funding to deliver the Medical School, with £45m of that coming from the Inclusive Future Fund announced in May 2019.

While the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ deal identified ‘bringing forward proposals’ for the expansion of numbers at Magee to 10,000 as a ‘key priority’ in a ‘potential Programme for Government for 2019/20’, Mr. Smith said this was up to Stormont.

Magee College.

“On the issue of students, clearly for the Executive there is a decision to be made on whether to fund more student places or whether to take action in other areas.

"But I stand ready to support the Derry Medical School in any way I can. And on the issue of the commitment to the financial package more generally, we do stand ready, as I’ve said before, to support the Executive as it develops its priorities.”

An Ulster University spokesperson said: “The commitment from the UK Government to ring fence funds to deliver the Graduate Entry Medical School in Derry~Londonderry is a very welcome further step forward, not only for the University, but for all those who share our vision for medical education, including our many clinical partners. We will continue to work with Department of Health officials and the NI Executive in this process.”

Derry City & Strabane District Council said it will closely engage with its partners on achieving the next stage of these “strategically important projects for the region”.

Colum Eastwood in the House of Commons on Thursday.

A Council spokesperson said the Medical School and the “much-needed expansion of the Magee Campus” are key catalyst regeneration projects that the Council has identified as being “critical to assist us in achieving growth and prosperity for the DC&SDC and the wider North West City region”.

Derry doctor and chair of the British Medical Association’s NI Council, Dr. Tom Black, said: “We have a growing, aging population in Northern Ireland with increasingly complex health needs.

“We need approximately 400 extra medical students a year graduating in NI who will then go on to work as doctors who can treat this growing patient need. Currently we only have approx 230 graduating from Queen’s University’s medical school.

“The emphasis in this medical school will be on general practice and it is well known that we have massive staffing gaps in this area across NI, particularly in the West of the country.

Julian Smith, Secretary of State.

"We need GPs working in local communities there and medical students are more likely to stay and work in the areas in which they study, so a medical school based in the North West will help address the medical workforce issues we have on this side of NI.”

Chamber of Commerce President Redmond McFadden welcomed progress on the Medical School but expressed concern over Mr. Smith’s lack of commitment on Magee’s expansion.

“While we were pleased to see the British Government last night commit to ringfencing £60 million for the proposed Graduate Entry Medical School, the expansion of Magee must also receive immediate and specific funding commitments.

“Raising student numbers to 10,000 would be truly transformative for a region which has been waiting for a full university since 1965. It would also help address the significant skills gap which exists in the North West and help attract inward investment and encourage our young people to stay here,” he said.

Speaking in the British House of Lords DUP peer Willie Hay said: "I also welcome, at long last, the £45 million of capital ring-fenced for the medical school in my own city of Londonderry.

"This has been ongoing for some time and I welcome it very much. I know that many, if not all, of the politicians in this city will welcome what has been achieved."

On Tuesday Health Minister Robin Swann said there was both ‘financial commitment’ and ‘goodwill’ towards the development.

His remarks came after NDNA identified ‘bringing forward proposals’ for the development of a Medical School and the expansion of the student body at Magee to 10,000 as a ‘key priority’ in a ‘potential Programme for Government for 2019/20’.

The Executive must publish an agreed programme within two weeks.

An Ulster University spokesperson said: “We welcome the commitments within the deal to the development and expansion of our Magee campus and the establishment of the graduate entry medical school.

"These commitments are a vitally important step forward for the City Region and will bring significant enhancements for student opportunity, as well as health and patient care.

“Unquestionably, this deal can unlock the full transformative potential of UU in the NW.”

DUP MLA Gary Middleton asked Mr. Swann: “Will he work with his Executive colleagues to ensure that the graduate entry medical school in Londonderry is delivered and that we work to ensure that we address some of the unique challenges that are faced in our trusts?”

He replied: “It is an Executive priority, and we are looking at it. As the Member is fully aware, we will address where that sits, given the outworkings of the financial commitments that were given last night, but I think there is a financial commitment and an intention of goodwill around the Executive table to make sure that the medical school at Magee proceeds.”