Ulster University has said that government sign-off is needed by the end of May to ensure student intake for a Magee medical school can proceed as planned for 2021.
Elected representatives from across the north west have called on the Executive to sign off on a medical school at Magee and match funding for Derry’s City Deal.
The Executive will meet today and SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin today said that with three weeks to get it over the line 'it must be top of their agenda'.
“I urge all Executive Ministers to make a call this week. Let’s get it done, together,” she added.
An Ulster University spokesperson stated that it is 'steadfast' in its commitment to establishing a Graduate Entry Medical School in a bid to address the challenges of a healthcare system at breaking point, and to future proof care provision across Northern Ireland.
“The University’s completed Outline Business Case was submitted to the Department of Health on 21st October and we are hopeful that it will be reviewed by the Minister as soon as possible.
“We continue to work with the General Medical Council to gain full accreditation. The GMC’s Stage 5 process can only be completed when it recommends progression to Stage 6, and that is only possible when a funding decision is confirmed.
“To complete the next stages with the GMC in preparation and readiness for a 2021 intake of students, confirmation of a funding commitment is required by the end of May.”
The department of health is readying its own business case for medical expansion in Northern Ireland but gave no assurances that a medical school will be based in Derry.
Meanwhile, another government department, that for the economy, has told the Derry News that Ulster University’s business case for expansion to 10,000 full-time students requires ‘significant work’.
Long-running plans for a medical school at Ulster University’s Magee campus have been plagued by set-backs.
A revised timeline targeted student enrolment in 2021.
The Derry News asked the department whether it expects the medical school to be approved and for medical students to enrol at Magee next year.
In response, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “The establishment of a Graduate Entry Medical School is one of the priorities of the restored Executive in New Decade, New Approach.
“The Department of Health has been clear that there are two separate business case processes in relation to the development of a Graduate Entry Medical School.
“The first process, which has been under way since 2017, has involved significant assistance from departmental officials on the development of Ulster University’s own business case.
“Ulster University has been grateful for this assistance, which has ensured that their business case meets the standards within government financial guidance.”
He added: “The second process is the development of the Department of Health’s own business case which will outline the need to be addressed by any expansion of medical education.
“That business case will be formally submitted to the Minister very shortly. It will be appreciated that the department’s immediate and overriding priority has been the local response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“The Department of Health must ensure that any proposal represents value for money for health and social care. It is for the Executive to collectively decide on the best approach for Northern Ireland as a whole.”
There was renewed optimism in January of this year when a deal was agreed by Northern Ireland’s political parties to restore devolved government three years after it collapsed.
The New Decade, New Approach document contains firm commitments to a Magee Medical School from both the British and Irish governments.
It states: “The Executive will expand university provision at Magee in line with commitments made by the previous Executive, including through the establishment of a Graduate Entry Medical School.”
Furthermore, under the section outlining the UK government’s financial and economic commitments to Northern Ireland it says: “Capital and resource funding for the Medical School in Derry
subject to the Northern Ireland Executive’s approval of the project.”
While the Irish government adds that it is ‘willing in principle to contribute to capital investment to support expanded provision at Ulster University Magee Campus, alongside the commitment made as part of this agreement by the UK Government.’
The commitment made by the previous Executive was for 10,000 full-time students at Magee.
In 2019/20 there were 3,456 full-time students enrolled at Magee – 4,237 overall.
Five years previous, 2014/15, there were 3,883 full-time enrolments – 5,098 overall.
In a statement to the Derry News, spokesperson for the Department for the Economy (DfE) said it is committed to engaging with Ulster University regarding expansion of its Magee campus, including taking account of priorities set out in New Decade, New Approach.
“The university confirmed in correspondence to the Department in September 2019 that it has remained committed to securing expansion of its Magee campus, and at the same time confirmed that the business case required updating prior to any consideration by the Department or Executive. “The Department also recognises, however, that the business case requires significant work.”
The Department of Finance voiced its support for the establishment of a medical school in Derry saying it is one of the priorities of the restored Executive in New Decade, New Approach.
Sinn Féin Finance Minister, Conor Murphy hosted a meeting with representatives of the North West on April 30 to discuss the Magee Medical School, City Deals and the Inclusive Future Fund.
Following the meeting, the Minister said: "Today’s meeting was a continuation of positive engagement I’ve had over recent months with the North West. I’ve already expressed my support for the City Deal & Inclusive Future Fund which will be discussed at the Executive."
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