Third medical school one step closer as University of Waikato and Ministry of Health sign memorandum

New Zealand's third medical school is now one step closer to reality.
New Zealand's third medical school is now one step closer to reality. Photo credit: Getty Images

Story by RNZ

A proposal to build the country's third medical school took a step forward today with the University of Waikato and Ministry of Health signing a Memorandum of Understanding to progress a business case.

Health Minister Dr Shane Reti said signing off on an MoU was a key commitment in the government's 100-day plan.

"Today's signing by the Ministry of Health and the University of Waikato is a big step forward. The Ministry and the University will now work together on a robust process to make sure the model can achieve the health workforce outcomes we all know New Zealand needs."

University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley said the MoU was a significant step towards addressing health workforce needs and reducing New Zealand's heavy reliance on bringing in doctors from overseas. He said the current situation was not going to materially improve if nothing changed.

"We need to train more doctors, we need to select students from a wider range of backgrounds who are committed to long-term careers in primary care outside the main centres and we need to place these students in the regions where they are needed."

Reti said New Zealanders had been facing longer and longer delays in accessing healthcare, and tackling the our workforce crisis was key to solving that.

"New Zealand's existing medical schools at the University of Auckland and the University of Otago are top quality and have immediately benefited from increased places at both universities this year.

"However stats also tell us many GPs are planning to retire in the next 10 years, which will particularly impact provincial and rural communities already experiencing New Zealand's biggest doctor shortages. A proposed third medical school will have a focus on primary care. We will take time to consider the needs of rural areas and we envisage a four year graduate entry programme, instead of the existing six year programs."

Quigley said the University of Waikato had long advocated investment in a third medical school was part of the solution to New Zealand's current and future health workforce needs.

"It will provide a new model of medical education in New Zealand, with new entry pathways attracting a more diverse range of students. It will be a new approach to matching medical education with our actual workforce needs, and a new approach to integrating provincial and rural communities into the medical education programme."

Reti said the University and the Ministry will begin working through the necessary steps to ensure the best training model can be developed.

"This includes a cost-benefit analysis to give everyone assurance of the feasibility of this programme."

Quigley said the University of Waikato was well placed to deliver a new medical school and it has widespread stakeholder support to do so.

"We look forward to working with the government on the processes required to facilitate the medical school."

The National Party had a policy of supporting a third medical school during last year's election.

Documents seen by RNZ in September last year showed vice chancellor Professor Neil Quigley went to considerable lengths to help National develop the policy.