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Stand-off at Stormont to hit medical school plan

Magee campus, the proposed school site
Magee campus, the proposed school site

By Eamon Sweeney

A proposed second medical school for Northern Ireland is in danger of being shelved because of the continuing impasse at Stormont.

The outline business case for a Graduate Entry Medical School at the Magee campus of Ulster University has been drafted by the Strategic Investment Board and was handed to Richard Pengelly, the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health in October. He has advised the project requires ministerial approval.

However, the absence of an Executive means that unless the project is approved by a minister in the next eight weeks, it could be delayed for a year.

An email drafted by Professor Hugh McKenna, Dean of Medical School Development states: "Our plan is to have the first cohort of 60 students starting in September 2019. If approval is delayed beyond February/Marcj 2018 this could be put back one year."

Professor McKenna told the Belfast Telegraph: "We have about two months to play with on this. We are aware the Scottish Government has established a graduate entry medical school, the Welsh Government are looking to establish new medical schools and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is looking to create 1,500 medical school places.

"We have our own plans, but the political stasis here isn't helping us."

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan criticised the delay. He said: "The political impasse due to the failure of the DUP and Sinn Fein to form a government here is potentially risking a delay in this vital project.

"To find ourselves in a situation now where this major, positive piece of work cannot progress in the absence of an Executive is lamentable."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "The department received an outline business case from Ulster University in October.

"This will be considered in the context of an ongoing review of regional medical training place needs, on which both of the local universities are represented, which is due to report in June 2018."

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