Londonderry DUP MLA Gary Middleton, the Deputy Chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee, has called for progress on a new medical school at the Magee campus of the Ulster University as one way of helping alleviate the Western Trust’s crippling dependence on locum doctors.
The cost of locums here, was almost a million pounds more last year, than had been projected by the Chief executive of the health authority Elaine Way.
Mr Middleton said this is too much and that the difficulties in recruiting medical staff west of the Bann could be eased by a fully functioning new medical school in the city.
He said: “In the 2015/16 financial year, the Western Trust area spent £12.9million on medical and dental locums to meet the demands within the trust.
“Recent delegations to the Health Committee from the Chief Executives of the Trusts and the Health Minister have again outlined the unique challenges facing the west of Northern Ireland and the difficulties of recruiting doctors in the Western Trust area.
“A new medical school in Londonderry would help address this issue whilst reducing the significant locum costs. It is proven that medical professionals are likely to work where they have trained.
“The previous Health Minister Simon Hamilton MLA had discussed the proposal for a Graduate Entry Medical school with Prof Paddy Nixon, Ulster University.
“I call on Minister O’Neill and the Department for Health to further develop this proposal and help address the challenges faced in the North West.”
In 2015/16 the estimated expenditure for travel and accommodation costs associated with Junior Doctors in the Western Trust was in the region of £900,000.
A new medical school at Magee is one of the instruments being considered as a possible remedy to the problem.
Last year, the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, suggested another: implementing an entirely new model of health care in Northern Ireland.
He said: “I do not think that we can dictate to people where they work. If we had a model in which all medical staff were employed at a regional level and deployed based on the needs of the Northern Ireland health and social care sector, that would be a different case from what we have at the moment, where the staff are employed by trusts.
“It is entirely open to all individual members of staff if they happen to be working in the Western Trust and see a job that they find attractive in the Belfast Trust to apply for it.”
But the top civil servant added: “I do not think that it would ever be right for us to try to stop that. I know that that is not what you are suggesting. It is a difficult issue.”