BMA Northern Ireland council chair Tom Black described the developments as ‘positive news… during one of the most uncertain and unprecedented health emergencies we have faced in a generation’.
He said: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic brought the chronic medical staffing gaps in our health service into sharp focus, as the enlisting of retired doctors and early graduation of final-year medical students showed. This new school will mean more medical students graduating annually in Northern Ireland and then staying on not only to treat our growing and aging population but to support our health service should such a pandemic like this ever happen again.
‘Medical students are also more likely to stay and work in the areas in which they study, so a medical school based in the north west will go some way to address the workforce issues we have on that side of Northern Ireland. These workforce issues are especially acute in general practice, which is the specialism this medical school will focus on.’
Deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill said the first 70 students would start training at the new medical school in 2021 – and said she hoped it would be ‘instrumental in the regeneration of the region’.
It has been long hoped Northern Ireland would have another medical school to add to the only existing one at Queen’s University in Belfast. There had previously been plans for a medical school in Derry suggested in the mid-2000s, but a litany of problems delayed the project.