Magee Medical School: NI deal gives new hope for 2021 opening
The new deal to restore devolution in Northern Ireland has boosted hopes that a new medical school planned for Londonderry could open by next year.
Magee Medical College is to be located in Ulster University's Magee in the city, but the project has been beset by repeated delays and funding problems.
It was due to open in 2019 until the Stormont stand-off scuppered the plan.
But the deal Stormont's biggest parties have now signed up to lists the school among the new executive's "priorities".
The document, published by the British and Irish governments on Thursday, 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."
Speaking to BBC Radio Foyle on Friday, Dr Malachy Ó Néill, Provost for Magee Campus, said he was "100% confident" that Magee Medical College will be open in 2021, if an executive is formed.
The deadline for student recruitment for the current calendar year has passed, but Dr O'Neil said next year is "absolutely achievable".
"Everything is in place. Let's just get on with it", he said.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin have both said they will return to government on the basis of the government's proposals, which outline wide-ranging investment in public services, including the education sector.
The Northern Ireland Assembly is to be recalled at 13:00 GMT on Saturday, when MLAs are expected to appoint ministers to a new executive.
The deal, entitled 'New Decade, New Approach' states that both the Irish and UK government will aim to financially support the Magee Medical School and reach the 10,000 student number expansion target at Ulster University.
'Let's get on with it'
The Provost for Magee Campus said: "We have been engaging directly and successfully with Julian Smith and Simon Coveney and with all our local politicians.
"We have had a Foundation Dean in place for sometime, we have a curriculum in place, we have partnerships with our Western Trust and Trusts right across the region, he said.
"Everything is in place. Let's get on with it", Dr Ó Néill added.
As part of the overall Stormont deal, the Irish government has said it is willing, in principle, to contribute to capital investment to support expanded provision at Magee Campus.
Timeline of events
- In 2016 Ulster University lodged plans for the school and applied to the General Medical Council (GMC) to train doctors in the north west.
- By March 2018 Ulster University was working on a number of recommendations made by the Department of Health (DoH) - including how the school would be funded - but Ulster University said the school remained on track. Prof Louise Dubras was appointed to oversee the delivery of the medical school.
- In May 2018, Ulster University appointed Prof Louise Dubras as professor and Foundation Dean of the School of Medicine.
- In June 2018, DoH said Ulster University had yet to meet criteria to "demonstrate need and value for money" for a new medical school.
- In November 2018, Ulster University vice chancellor Prof Paddy Nixon confirmed the planned 2019 opening could not go ahead because of a lack of devolved government.
- In January 2017, Northern Ireland's power-sharing devolved coalition government led by the DUP and Sinn Féin collapsed following a row over a green energy scheme.
Why is Magee Medical College needed?
The only medical school in Northern Ireland at present is at Queen's University in Belfast.
About 270 doctors graduate from it each year.
The expansion of the university in Derry and the opening of a medical training in school in the north west has long been regarded as a catalyst for economic growth in the region.
It is a central aspect of the city deal for Derry and Strabane announced in May 2019.
The shortage of doctors is particularly acute in the north west.
The Western Health and Social Care Trust - which serves a region including Derry - spent £27m on temporary doctors, health professionals, nurses and admin staff during the 2017/18 financial year.
Speaking in 2018, Foyle MLA, Mark Durkan said: "People earn where they learn and the medical school in Derry would be a real game changer."