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15 April 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 4:29pm

A new medical school in Sunderland is not a silver bullet

I'll welcome our newly trained doctors in six years, but NHS workers need government support now. 

By Julie Elliott MP

Sunderland University’s new medical school is set to open its doors in September next year, as part of the government’s expansion of medical training. Our city will welcome 50 students in 2018 and 100 students in 2020, in a bid to boost the number of doctors in the North East. 

Sunderland won funding after taking part in a bidding contest against other applicants, recognising our track record of excellence in medical sciences and nursing education. The development sends a clear signal that students don’t have to go to Newcastle or other cities for top-class medical training. Our course will rival the best in the country, incorporating extensive exposure to real-life clinical settings, and students will benefit from stimulation suites located on site at the school’s Living Lab – an amazing state of the art facility at the university that is already used by Sunderland Royal Hospital and others for training purposes. 

While our NHS in Sunderland has much to be proud of, with our Eye Infirmary and Children’s Centre acting as regional hubs, it’s no secret that we have problems attracting medical professionals. This bold step forward seeks to change this, and to address the disappointing drift to the south of newly trained doctors. Studies show that doctors tend to stay in the areas where they train, so we should be optimistic that our region will see more medical professionals to deliver high-quality care and ease the pressure on dedicated NHS staff who are already working in overstretched hospitals. 

Our university has always played a crucial role in supporting our community thanks to the hard work of vice-chancellor Shirley Atkinson and Professor Scott Wilkes, and this new development is no exception. Crucially, the school will specialise in GP and psychiatric training, complementing existing medical training in the region and addressing the chronic shortage of GPs in Sunderland and the wider North East. Last month, I obtained government statistics revealing that the number of full-time GPs in our city has plummeted in the past few years, with numbers dropping by 25 per cent between 2013 and 2016. This has left Sunderland with fewer than 140 GPs to serve record numbers of people seeking help from GPs and A&E services. 

The school will recruit hugely talented students from the communities in which they live and where they will eventually practice. The university and local council will work closely together to provide an environment conducive to retaining young doctors, creating a new generation of truly local GPs that understand the pressing issues faced by our region. 

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While this move is good news for Sunderland and the wider North East, the government needs to be doing much more to address the problems facing our NHS in Sunderland and across the country. It will be another six years before these extra doctors have the training they need to work in our community and hospitals, so the government needs to take much bolder immediate action. 

We need more support for those doctors already working in our hospitals who are inundated with record patient numbers. It’s clear that our hospitals cannot wait six years – our NHS needs proper government funding so that it can deliver the vital services and high-quality care that we all depend on.

Julie Elliott is the Labour MP for Sunderland Central. 

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