Derry breathes a sigh of relief as Ulster University plan to move 800 places to Magee…

It’s been a debate rumbling on since the 1960s and has been subject to many slugger posts over the years. Including the lack of strategic thinking over the long-term viability for our health service. The post graduate entry medical school at Magee is set to take students in September this year (according to UU’s website at time of posting) but it has been blighted by delays and began as a project in the early noughties.

20 years in Derry (policy) terms is a sigh of relief. The sigh became a glimmer of hope when UU decided that all ‘allied’ health courses from their Jordanstown campus would be relocated to Magee. Sensibly they saw how it was of greater benefit to have a health multiplier effect in the North West rather than moving these courses into the new and expensively constructed Belfast campus.

The courses will include diagnostic radiography, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, podiatry, speech and language therapy, radiotherapy and oncology, as well as healthcare scientists. Bringing an extra 800 students to the Magee campus and pushing up the campus total. However, it remains the smallest university campus on the island at around 5000 students – full time students’ number around 3000.

When set against a population of over 100,000 people it makes damning reading for a first world country and for Stormont. NI’s second city is hoping that the quantity and quality of these courses will act as a multiplier for the struggling economy in the North West region. Nearly 7% of the city is unemployed claiming Universal credit and this is without observing high rates of economic inactivity.

Belfast is second highest on the latest labour market data with 6.2%. In fairness to our policymakers, it seems to be cities they are inept at running, not just one city but both major population centres of NI are languishing in socio-economic malaise.

However today is about being positive about the future opportunities that could abound for the North west and broader NI as we increase our health science capabilities. With enough ambition and hunger for reform we could lead Europe on health innovation. Or we could just dither and run the existing service into the ground…