Fermanagh and Omagh Council has passed a motion to contact the Health Permanent Secretary, Richard Pengelly, regarding a letter he sent about the potential development of a postgraduate medical school at University of Ulster’s Magee campus in Derry.

Mr. Pengelly’s letter said: “I would caution against unrealistic expectations on this issue. The proposal from Ulster University presents long-term and very substantial funding implications.”

Speaking at the Council meeting at the Grange in Omagh on June 4, the independent councillor, Josephine Deehan, who proposed the motion called Mr. Pengelly’s letter “extremely disappointing”.

“Yet again, he fails to capture the essence of the point we as a council were making in regard to the availability of medical school places in Northern Ireland,” she said.

“Mr. Pengelly talks about a business case and value for money and the significant financial commitment for this medical school to be operational.

“I accept that it will require additional funding but what escapes him really is the fact that our service provision is being severely compromised in many areas, but in particular primary care and general practice, owing to the lack of consultants and G.Ps who are willing to work in rural areas in Northern Ireland.”

Councillor Deehan stated the development of this school is about necessary workforce planning, adding: “It’s not an unrealistic expectation that we should be provided with the required number of practitioners to deliver our health service locally.”

Councillor O’Cofaigh seconded the proposal to go back to Mr Pengelly regarding the issues Councillor Deehan spoke of.

But, he added: “I would also like to raise an issue about the operation of NIMDTA (Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency) because there are very serious failures, as far as I can see, about how the group is allocating professionally qualified healthcare staff to this region.”

The Council agreed to also raise this issue in the letter going back to Mr Pengelly.

NIMDTA’s website says it “provides a range of services for those engaged in the delivery of postgraduate medical and dental education and training”. Its chief executive is Professor Keith Gardiner.

Sinn Féin’s Councillor Sheamus Greene, commented that Mr. Pengelly’s letter was “extremely disappointing”.

He said: “We had a presentation in here about 18 months ago which laid out the reasons for the postgraduate medical school.

“The presentation referenced a rural part of Scotland which had similar problems getting doctors and a postgraduate medical school was the solution they came up with.

“Statistics show that 80 per cent of doctors that qualify end up working within a 20-mile radius of the medical school that they qualified from.

“West of the Bann is in grave need of this medical school. I would support anything the council could do to highlight this issue and progress it.”

The SDLP councillor, Adam Gannon, said: “I agree, we should be pressing for that funding and doing everything we as a Council can to bring it forward but ultimately this needs the approval of a minister.

“The west is currently paying the price of the political failure of the problem parties.”