Announcement sidesteps parochial issue

COMMENT: A tricky election issue involving parochial sensitivities has been deftly handled by kicking the can down the road.

The decision yesterday is likely to signal the end of Waikato’s dream of setting up the country’s third medical school.

Using a contest open to all universities, the Government will train an extra 60 doctors a year, surely not a large enough base to launch a third school.

While it is the same number of trainees as that proposed by Waikato University, the case for setting up a completely new school to train them will not stack up.

Treasury will get a say, and it is unlikely to agree it is a good use of taxpayer dollars.

With the election safely out of the way, the Government will be able to decide the matter next year on a practical basis, rather than indulging parochial empire-building.

To put it in perspective, the Otago Medical School graduates 282 medical students per year, and it has the capacity to scale up.

Broad and vocal support in Waikato for a third medical school exerted pressure during an increasingly tight election race.

But this Government has generally discouraged tertiary providers from empire-building, especially in areas where they have no strong track record, such as Waikato and health sciences.

It is possible Waikato might tweak its bid by partnering with another university — perhaps Massey University, which has an established health division.

With its focus on rural areas and dispersed training, the rural health school is an initiative that lends itself to collaboration between schools.

The School of Rural Medicine announced yesterday maps neatly on to a university with an existing medical school. It sounds rather similar to the counterproposal put up by Dunedin and Auckland in response to Waikato’s bid.

Waikato’s bid has an additional element of uncertainty because the future of Waikato District Health Board chief executive Nigel Murray is unclear.

He is on leave while an issue pertaining to his expenses is investigated. The Waikato bid was a joint one between its university and the DHB, and Dr Murray was a forceful proponent of a third school.
eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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