Bay medical school is in the pipeline

Michael Kimberley

A FULLY-fledged medical school is set to be opened in Nelson Mandela Bay in five years.

This comes after members of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s council agreed yesterday planning for South Africa’s ninth medical school could start.

The university has high hopes the envisaged school will address the chronic doctor shortages across South Africa.

The university is tight-lipped about details but promised more information would be revealed next week.

NMMU dean of health sciences professor Vic Exner will give a breakfast presentation about how plans will proceed on Tuesday.

He said a team of experts would meet in two weeks to draw up a blueprint for the medical undergraduate programme.

The university will need final approval from the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi before the school opens its doors.

Chairwoman of the medical and dental professions board of the HPCSA Dr Letticia Moja said: “The HPCSA will be involved in accrediting the programmes the institution will offer after the council has received the necessary submissions.”

Walter Sisulu University’s medical school, the most recent one established in South Africa, opened 37 years ago.

NMMU vice-chancellor Professor Derrick Swartz said there was widespread support from healthcare professionals in the city for a medical school. “The city already has a large number of public hospitals, private hospitals and clinics, which could benefit from and contribute significantly to a new medical school.”

The university had a strong administrative base and a rapidly growing faculty of health sciences.

“A future medical school would be a natural evolutionary step. We will have to consult widely including with other universities as well as the ministries of health and higher education.” There is a shortage of 80 000 healthcare professionals in South Africa, according to the Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA).

In the Eastern Cape there are three doctors for every 100 000 patients compared to South Africa’s average of six, national Health Department figures show.

PHASA estimates that about 70% of doctors work in the private sector, which serves 16% of the population.

South Africa produces between 1 200 and 1 400 doctors every year.

Eastern Cape Health Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the provincial authority supported any plans that could alleviate the doctor shortage in the province.

Responding to the national need to beef up the number of healthcare professionals, NMMU’s future doctors would take a trans-disciplinary approach to training, Exner said.

The school would introduce modules common across all health disciplines.

Exner said: “It will allow us to develop a new type of health professional and eventually a doctor who chooses to work in the communities most in need.”

It was too early to discuss where the financing would come from or how much it would cost to set up the school.

Port Elizabeth tourism expert Peter Myles said he could only speculate on positive spin-offs for the city. “It could do some worthwhile research putting the city on the map and help create medical conferences.”

Myles is a former director of the tourism research unit at NMMU.

South African Medical Association EP branch chairwoman Pumela Tabata backed plans to start the school.

“They will have lots of support from specialists in the area. It will not be difficult to attract lecturers to the university or city,” she said.

Tabata said South Africa urgently needed a new school and the university was the perfect place to establish one.

“They already have well established medical faculties.”

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