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The University of Waikato and Waikato District Health Board want to set up a medical school in Hamilton, and have submitted a joint proposal to the Government. Otago University and the University of Auckland are strongly opposed, saying it would create a shortage of medical student work placements.
"I don’t know why Otago would need to be too concerned about it," he said during a visit to the Otago Daily Times in Dunedin yesterday.
"I’ve seen the proposition; it’s got its merits, it’s got some questions.
"What we’re after is a medical workforce that matches the needs of our very wide range of communities."
The workforce needed to cover "fast-growing Asian communities’’ as well as ‘‘pretty stable rural communities", Mr English said. Mr English stressed no decision had been made and the proposal was at an early stage.
Asked about the number of training places, Mr English said, "The experts will tell us about that on the way through."
In an email to the ODT, Otago health sciences pro-vice-chancellor Prof Peter Crampton said there was "no easy fix" for doctor shortages, and a third school could "inflict net harm".
"The University of Otago is committed to playing a significant role in finding the best solutions.
"Before any decision is made, a thorough and impartial analysis is required, along with wide consultation with the numerous stakeholders.
"Otherwise there is potential to inflict net harm on our rather stressed health system by inserting a third medical school into the mix," Prof Crampton said.
Prof Crampton said a third medical school would make it more difficult to find work placements for students and graduates in general practice, particularly in the upper North Island.
The Waikato backers say Dunedin and Auckland do not train enough doctors who want to work in provincial or rural areas. Mr English was also asked about the long-awaited Dunedin Hospital rebuild, and he said the process was "very complex".
"There’s understandably all these questions that need answered, like where it’s going to be.
"The scale of the rebuild is still a bit uncertain, how complete the rebuild is as they work through the state of the [existing] buildings."