Graduate medical school to be delayed by a year
THE opening of a new medical school has been delayed by a year due to the absence of a Stormont executive.
Ulster University (UU) will not recruit students in 2019 to its Graduate Entry Medical School.
The only medical higher education facility in the north is at Queen's University Belfast.
UU planned to admit an initial 60 trainee doctors at its Magee campus in Derry next year, increasing to 120 students per year.
In March, the university said plans were progressing, however, the Department of Health said UU had not yet met criteria to demonstrate value for money.
Following cross party political and industry wide support in 2016, UU said it continued to proactively develop the project, planning to accept students from 2019.
The Department of Health has confirmed that any funding decision can only be made by ministers. however.
Vice chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon said healthcare provision was at breaking point, the impact of which was felt by patients waiting for long periods for appointments and operations.
"The absence of government decision making for Northern Ireland is a source of deep frustration, not only to the patients, potential students and the university, but to the healthcare sector as a whole. In a bid to address the current health crisis and future proof care provision we remain steadfast in our commitment to establishing a Graduate Entry Medical School," Prof Nixon said.
"Earlier this year the UK health secretary announced plans to establish five further medical schools in England to deal with the healthcare crisis. England and Wales benefit from graduate entry medical education and proposals have recently been agreed for Scotland. We believe it is critical that Northern Ireland's health system be provided with the same lifeline and progressive forward planning. This is time lost in educating the doctors we urgently need in our hospitals."
Prof Nixon said the school would be delivered "as soon as the political infrastructure resumes".
Dr Tom Black, chairman of the British Medical Association's Northern Ireland Council, said the delay was "sadly another symptom of lack of a functioning assembly".
"We have a medical workforce crisis that is more acute in hospitals and GP surgeries in the west of the country. Research tells us that medical students are more likely to seek employment close to where they have studied," he said.
"There is no doubt that this medical school would have attracted students and future clinicians to stay and work in the west which can only benefit the health services there and patients."