A new medical training school in Londonderry has been given the go-ahead.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill confirmed the graduate medical school at Ulster University’s Magee campus will open in September 2021.
The only medical school in Northern Ireland at present is at Queen’s University in Belfast.
The deputy first minister said the school will be “instrumental in the regeneration of the region”.
“This is a hugely important investment decision for the north west, and it adds to the executive’s recent announcement on the Derry and Strabane city deal and inclusive future fund,” she said.
Ms O’Neill said the first 70 students would start their training in the north west in 2021.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the announcement was “a very welcome piece of positive news”.
“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,” the BMA’s NI chair Dr Tom Black said.
He added: “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.”
Plans for a medical school in Derry were first mooted in the mid-2000s, and submitted to the General Medical Council in 2016.
In May 2019, the UK government announced £100m for the Derry and Strabane city deal.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the announcement from the deputy first minister but said further detail is needed.
“We need a guarantee from the executive and from Ulster University that the first students will enrol starting in September 2021 and we need to see a plan for university expansion beyond that.
“The medical school is the first step, not the end product,” the Foyle MP said.
Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan said the school’s go ahead is “a major boost for Ulster University and for Derry” while DUP MLA Gary Middleton tweeted that “we must now work towards students being accepted from 2021”.