Confirmation that both Ulster University and Queens University have agreed a partnership to operate a medical school in Derry has received a broad welcome from senior politicians in the city.

The first intake of students at the Magee based school had been envisaged for September 2019. But, in November last year it emerged that the project would have to be stalled until at least 2020 because of the continued absence of a Northern Ireland Executive.

However, Dean of Medical School Development at Magee, Professor Hugh McKenna warned that despite the announced co-operation the project still can’t proceed because of the political stalemate at Stormont.

“We still plan to go-ahead in 2020 but funding has to be signed-off by a minister. We still need that to be ready,” said Professor McKenna.

News of the planned co-operation between both of the North’s universities came as it emerged that 100 more doctors per year are required here to meet increasing demand.

The shortfall in medical students was one of the central findings of a review compiled by Professor Keith Gardiner-chief executive and dean of the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency.

The report, commissioned by the Department of Health (DoH) was aimed at finding out how many student places would be needed to ensure an adequate number of doctors in the future.

The review found that there are 6,142 doctors in Northern Ireland, with 3.29 doctors for every 1,000 people - a higher figure than Wales but lower than England and Scotland.

Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion welcomed confirmation that Ulster University and Queens have agreed a joint partnership to operate the graduate medical school at Magee.

The Foyle MP said: “The announcement is another welcome step forward in the development of the Magee medical school.

“I have been working closely with both The University of Ulster and Queens to secure this partnership and am delighted that we have now reached this stage.”

The only current medical training facility in the North is based at Queens. It admits 270 students per year and is directly funded by the DoH.

Plans for a medical school in Derry have been around for a number of years but have as yet failed to be completely confirmed. It is understood that an updated business case for the Derry based medical school was sent to Stormont last week.

SDLP spokesperson for Health Mark H Durkan told the SDLP: “It’s a positive and welcome step. I am glad that Queens are now onboard because is the past my impression was that they were against the medical school in Derry.

“I’m glad that Queens are now on the same page, but we still have to surmount the fact that there is no Executive to sign off on the project. So, I while welcome this development, without a doubt but there’s still plenty of work to be done on this.”

Prof Gardiner's review also said that 445 medical school places a year may in the end be needed to ensure an adequate number of doctors by the year 2033.

It also stated that increasing the number of medical students, though, would not address the shortfall in doctors in the near future.

Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion however remained confident that the project can go ahead without ministerial sign-off after she held discussions with the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service,  the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health and the  Secretary  of State for  Northern Ireland.

She said: “This paves the way for the Department of Health to now take the necessary steps to ensure the first student intake to the Magee medical school in 2020 and I look forward to continuing to progress this hugely important project in the time ahead.”

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