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Calls for Derry medical school grow as Swann admits impact of Brexit on staffing 'unknown'

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An artist’s impression of the proposed Magee expansion, including the new medical school

An artist’s impression of the proposed Magee expansion, including the new medical school

An artist’s impression of the proposed Magee expansion, including the new medical school

The Health Minister cannot say how Brexit will impact on NHS staff numbers as he faces a crippling workforce crisis.

Robin Swann said it is not possible to give an accurate assessment of the potential number of vacancies that will arise in the health service as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

It comes as a leading doctors' union warned that an extra 1,000 consultants will be needed in Northern Ireland by 2033, while there were 2,269 nursing vacancies in September last year.

The British Medical Association (BMA) expressed concern over the potential impact of Brexit after addressing the Health Committee about the state of the health service here.

Speaking at Stormont yesterday, chair of the BMA (NI) Council Dr Tom Black said a second school for students at Magee in Londonderry must be created urgently.

"The need for more medical school places was recognised in the Gardiner Review in 2019," he said.

"The same review also estimates that, due to people living longer and increased demand on the health service, there will need to be a 50% increase in the number of consultants over the next 15 years, meaning that an additional 1,000 more consultants will need to be in place in Northern Ireland by 2033.

"We need the medical school places to bring the students through."

Dr Black also warned that if the medical school is not built, people living in rural areas will face increasing difficulty accessing GP services.

"You'll be seeing a nurse in Fermanagh and then hopefully a GP in Craigavon if you are lucky," he said.

Mr Swann has already admitted that he cannot say how Brexit will impact on the health workforce.

Responding to an Assembly question from SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan, Mr Swann said: "The end of free movement after December 31, 2020, will have an impact on the ability of European citizens, apart from Irish citizens, to move to Northern Ireland to live and work.

"How this will impact on health and social care staff numbers will depend upon the outcome of negotiations between the UK Government and the EU and upon the new immigration system that the UK Government puts in place of free movement."

Responding, Dr Black said one of the key issues in resolving the crisis facing the local health service "will be the recruitment and retention of doctors and other healthcare staff".

He continued: "Freedom of movement has enabled doctors and other healthcare staff to travel, work and teach across Europe, letting those from the EU to both contribute to and learn from the NHS, while UK-trained clinicians have been able to share their skills in other European nations.

"We want to see that continue particularly across the island of Ireland."

Alliance Party health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw expressed alarm at the Health Minister's response.

"On behalf of patients, I have consistently raised with the Department of Health the obvious risk of a negative impact both on staffing and indeed on the availability of equipment, such as for diagnostics, in the event of a crashout Brexit," she said.

"It is therefore extremely concerning, more than three years after these concerns were first raised, to find that the department is unable to say categorically what the impact will be.

"An attitude of 'It'll Be Alright on the Night' will not suffice.

"This shows the callous disregard being shown by the UK Government towards both Northern Ireland and the health service in general."

Last September health officials came under fire after refusing to reveal what preparations were being put in place to mitigate the effects of a no-deal Brexit.

Belfast Telegraph