Discussions have taken place about the building of a new teaching facility at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry.
The facility would link up with the new Magee medical school to train future doctors.
The Derry News has learned that plans for a ‘capital build’ project at the Derry hospital are at an ‘early stage’ but have been costed.
The development comes shortly after the news emerged on Friday that Ulster University’s Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS) is now recruiting students for September 2021 intake.
The Western Trust has and will be the main partner to the medical school.
Professor Louise Dubras, who will lead the course, appeared at a Western Trust board meeting to update members on the GEMS on August 6.
Speaking at the meeting, Mr Alan Moore, Director of Strategic Capital Development, offered a ‘hearty congratulations’ to Prof. Dubras.
He made reference to on-site teaching facilities at Altnagelvin Hospital which were included in the business case.
In response, Prof. Dubras said: “We costed in to our business case the requirement for a capital build at Altnagelvin Hospital to determine the amount of money that would be required for that.
“What our expectation is, is that we wish to work with the Trust and Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) to have a building which serves everybody and I think it’s really important that this is not two universities, two buildings and duplication of everything.
“We’re not big enough to do that and it doesn’t provide good education, the only way that this will work well as we move forward is to have a provision which covers all undergraduate education and that enables post-grad activity to take place there.
“That’s really important for students to see and work with foundation year doctors and doctors at other stages of their training so that what you have as a Trust is a culture of education and growing educational excellence in the area – and a single place, which is the hub, is where it needs to happen.”
Addressing the meeting on behalf of the Trust, Dr Catherine McDonnell expressed her admiration for Prof. Dubras’ ‘patience and tenacity’ over the past two years for ‘sticking with the project’ to deliver a medical school in the North West.
She said it is ‘extremely important’ to the hospital in terms of stabilising the medical workforce and creating local jobs.
To clear up some ‘confusion’ there may be about the nature of the medical school Prof. Dubras pointed out that it’s not a post-graduate medical school for people who are qualified as doctors and doing a master’s degree.
She explained that this school will accept students who will be trained as doctors and their degree could have been in any subject as long as they achieved a 2:1.
It will be situated within the faculty of Life and Health Sciences.
“The medical school is about supporting local young people and improving the economic potential of the region and tackling long-term social deprivation.”
Work is ongoing to refurbish buildings at the Magee campus in readiness for students next year.
Prof. Dubras said staff recruitment is an interesting area and people have already expressed an interest in coming to Derry to work.
Chairman of the Western Trust board, Sam Pollock, said he believes the medical school will help attract staff to address the ongoing issue of agency costs.
Director of Performance and Service Improvement, Mrs Teresa Molloy, said there has been extensive interest from partner organisations such as Fermanagh and Omagh Council about the long-term benefits it could bring.
In 2018, the Department of Health commissioned a Review of Medical School Places which recommended that Northern Ireland needs 100 more medical students a year to meet the increasing demand for doctors.
At last week's meeting Prof. Dubras pointed out how the medical school will start off with 70 students and discussions are continuing with The Executive Office to increase that to 100.
Currently, approximately 40% of medical graduates in Northern Ireland tend to stay and live within 10 miles of Queen’s University Belfast after graduation, according to the GMC.
The new School of Medicine at Magee will address departmental recommendations by providing access to medical education in the North West, positioning the Derry City region as an attractive place to study and work.
Students will benefit from access to clinical placements across the full range of general practice, medical and surgical specialities with primary care-based experience from week one.
This will enable students to develop knowledge and appreciation of the interconnectivity between primary, secondary, social and community-based healthcare.
A spokesperson for Ulster University confirmed: “Ulster University continues to engage with local partners including the Western Health and Social Care Trust on medical education.
“Discussions around joint additional training sites are at a very early stage and no plans have yet been agreed.”
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