Report must prove Londonderry needs medical school over Belfast
A report required by the Department of Health is holding up progress on the proposed medical school for the Magee Campus in Derry.
The report is part of a business plan required by the department to demonstrate there is a clear need for a new medical school in the city, rather than allocating new resources to the existing school at Queen's in Belfast.
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Magee Provost Dr Malachy O'Neill and Medical School Dean Professor Hugh McKenna outlined the problem to Derry City and Strabane District Council's governance and strategic planning committee this week.
"There are two issues," said Professor McKenna.
"The first is that we have to demonstrate the need for physicians here and we have been told that we need to make a stronger case for that.
"A final report was due by March 2018 but the deadline has slipped to the end of June this year, so we are waiting on that report.
"Secondly, we have to demonstrate value for money because there is the established medical school in Northern Ireland already, at Queen's University.
"The General Medical Council would be happy for us to start in September 2019, but the trouble with that is in securing the funding.
"If that funding is not signed off, it could slip to 2020."
Professor McKenna said that is was clear that allocating another 60 places to the existing 260 medical students at Queen's would not solve the problem of a lack of doctors in the north-west.
"It has been demonstrated that the 80/20/20 rule does work," he said.
"That is that 80 percent of doctors work for 20 years within 20 miles of where they went to medical school.
"The bill for locums in the Western Trust was £60 million last year and £40 million the year before, so it is rising and the Western Trust spends more than any other trust on locums each year.
"There is a great problem of getting doctors who are going to stay in the area.
"A medical school at Magee would not be in competition with Queen's. It would be a different type of school with an emphasis on chronic diseases which we need to focus on because of the fact that we are facing an ageing population."
Dr O'Neill told the committee that a preferred site for the medical school had been identified within the Magee Campus and that the bespoke building did not have to be ready for the school to open as there was enough temporary accommodation available.
"We can start the school in temporary accommodation within the Magee campus and then move into a new site when it is completed," he said.
"We have a preferred site within the Magee campus on the Strand Road close to the council offices."
Professor McKenna said the establishment of any new medical school was an eight-stage process.
He said that Magee was currently at stage four of that process and stage five was a visit to the site by the General Medical Council.
SDLP councillor Tina Gardiner said: "We do not need new doctors trained in Belfast because they won't come here.
"We need to train our own doctors here in this city.
"The dots are not being joined up and that is frustrating."
Sinn Fein councillor Mickey Cooper added: "The wider expansion of Magee is top of our agenda. the university was contracting to the point of extinction and we have managed to reverse that.
"The lobbying is going on and we need to be united on this and we need to be relentless."
Committee chairman Gus Hastings said: "If the system was working we would not have a problem.
"It is obvious that there is a need for a medical school here. We in this council are supporting you however we can."
Belfast Telegraph Digital