Belfast Telegraph

Disappointment over delay to new Northern Ireland medical school

By Michael Sheils McNamee

Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion described as "hugely disappointing" the planned medical school for Londonderry will not open next year.

The Belfast Telegraph reported last month plans for the campus would have to be shelved due to there being no minister in place in the Department of Health for the project to be signed off.

The first intake of 60 students at the Graduate Entry Medical School at Magee Campus had been scheduled for 2019 - but the future of a medical school for the north west any time in the future is now in doubt given the ongoing political impasse.

£5million has already been spent on the project.

Foyle MP Mrs McCallion said the school was a "crucial project for the city" saying the onus was now on the Department of Health to act.

“We should be celebrating the really positive news that Magee has signed an agreement with St George’s Medical School in the University of London, another crucial hurdle passed," she said.

“I have also opened a very positive dialogue with the Irish Government about the contribution they would be willing to make while good work has also been done between Ulster and Queen's to ensure that both universities are complementing each other in relation to the courses offered.

“So the work continues and progress continues to be made."

Mrs McCallion added: “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."

SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan said the news was "extremely disappointing and frustrating" but "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 Féin have failed to form a government and, in my opinion, are failing to make a meaningful effort to do so," he said.

In a statement in October, the Department of Health spokesman said: "While officials continue to engage with both universities on medical education matters, it will be for ministers to decide on any business cases submitted in respect of future medical school plans."

Speaking to BBC Radio Foyle, vice chancellor Paddy Nixon said up to £5m had already been invested in the school.

"We could go at any stage. We are basically at a shovel ready stage," he said.

"The only thing that is stopping us from progressing in opening in 2019, 2020 or even 2021 is that simply there is no decision making."

He added that the university was "deeply frustrated" and hard work had been done in getting the staff and curriculum in place.

Currently, the only medical school in Northern Ireland is located at Queen's University in Belfast.

Northern Ireland has been without a power-sharing Executive since January 2017, when former Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned over the mishandling of the RHI scheme.

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